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Mali's Islamic leaders praise French campaign

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Diakaridia Dembele and William Davison

The UK has sent special forces and intelligence personnel to the African nation, while the US offers support.

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Diabaly reclaimed from insurgents

Residents in Diabaly, Mali try to resume life after Islamist extremists are driven out by French troops, while fighting continues elsewhere.

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Bamako: Mali's Islamic leaders praised the French-led intervention to oust insurgents controlling two-thirds of the West African nation as the US said it was ready to offer support to the mission.

"The intervention of France in Mali has nothing to do with a fight against Islam," Mohamoud Dicko, president of the Islamic High Council of Mali, told reporters in Bamako, the capital, today. "It is a fight against crime and terrorism."

France started airstrikes on Mali's north on Jan. 11 to back the domestic army in its bid to take control from Islamist militants who seek to impose a strict version of Shariah law on the landlocked nation. Malian troops seized Diabaly and Douentza yesterday after reclaiming Konna on January 18, according to the French Defense Ministry.

A Malian soldier holds a machine gun near Markala, 270km north of Bamako. AFP

A Malian soldier holds a machine gun near Markala, 270km north of Bamako. AFP

African troops will take part in the mission, with troops arriving in the country this week. The continental force may reach 5500 soldiers, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Jan. 20. The contingent, planned by the African Union before the French strikes started, was initially expected to reach 3300.

A small number of UK special forces soldiers are already on the ground in Mali helping to co-ordinate and advise the French military effort against the jihadi groups in the north.

They are part of a team of British military and MI6 (British foreign intelligence) personnel in the country who are providing support to French commanders. None of the special forces soldiers are being deployed in a combat role, sources insisted.

The UK is also preparing to answer a call from the French for extra help with reconnaissance aircraft, which is expected to include RAF Sentinels, which were used during the Libya campaign.

The UK had considered making available some of the military's small, tactical drone aircraft, which can be used to scope battlefields, but it is understood the equipment, and the teams operating them, are all needed in Afghanistan.

The US is willing to provide support including funding, logistics, medicine and transportation to the mission if African leaders request it, Michael Battle, the US ambassador to the African Union, said Tuesday.

"We have a lot of capacity to provide support," he said. Instability in Mali threatens the wider region, especially neighboring Niger and Algeria, Mr Battle said. "Their peace and stability is dependent on stability and good governance in Mali."

African leaders will discuss the intervention in Mali during an African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 27 and January 28, and donors will hold a funding conference for the mission on January 29, Battle said.

Mali's government extended by three months a state of emergency first declared on Jan. 12, according to a statement on the prime minister's website.

Bloomberg with the Guardian

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