Mali's Islamic leaders praise French-led mission's fight against militants
On guard … a Malian soldier defends a bridge over the Niger, north of the capital, Bamako. Photo: AFP
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,'' Mahmoud Dicko, president of the Islamic High Council of Mali, told reporters in Bamako, the capital, on Tuesday. ''It is a fight against crime and terrorism.''
France started airstrikes on Mali's north on January 11 to back the domestic army in its bid to take control from Islamist militants who seek to impose a strict version of sharia on the landlocked nation. Malian troops seized Diabaly and Douentza on Monday after reclaiming Konna on January 18, the French Defence Ministry says.
The US was willing to provide support, including funding, logistics, medicine and transportation to the mission if African leaders requested it, Michael Battle, the US ambassador to the African Union, said on Tuesday. ''We have a lot of capacity to provide support,'' he said.
Instability in Mali threatens the wider region, especially neighbouring Niger and Algeria, Mr Battle said. ''Their peace and stability is dependent on stability and good governance in Mali.''
A small number of British special forces soldiers are already 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 personnel who are providing support to French commanders. None of the special forces soldiers are being deployed in a combat role, sources say.
Britain 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. Britain 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.
Bloomberg, Guardian News & Media