Africa

Ecowas authorises troops as French drive rebels back in Mali

AFP, Sapa-AP

The West African bloc Ecowas has authorised the immediate deployment of troops to Mali a day after French forces began a military operation there.

A video grab taken from a clip released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (Ecpad) shows French air force officers briefing at the French military base of N'Djamena, in Chad, before French military operations in Mali overnight January 11 to 12. Backed by French air power, Malian troops on January 11 unleashed an offensive against Islamist rebels who, having seized control of the north of the country in March last year, were threatening to push south. (Ecpad, AFP)

In a statement released Saturday, the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo says it made the decision "in light of the urgency of the situation."

Ecowas did not say how many troops would be sent to Mali or when they would arrive. It also did not specify which countries from the 15-nation bloc would be providing the forces.

Ecowas has been talking for months about a military operation to oust the Islamists from northern Mali. While the United Nations (UN) approved a plan it had not been expected until September.

The French operation, which started Friday, came after an appeal for help from Mali's president.

Malian troops backed by French gunships killed around 100 Islamist fighters in the battle to recapture the key town of Konna, a senior officer told AFP Saturday.

"We have claimed dozens of casualties, even around 100 among Islamist ranks in Konna," said Lieutenant Ousmane Fane, from the regional command.

France's defence minister says hundreds of French troops are involved in an operation that destroyed a command centre of Islamic rebels in Mali.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that a French helicopter pilot died of his wounds in the operation, which involved air strikes on three rebel targets overnight.

"During this intense combat, one of our pilots… was fatally wounded," the minister told reporters. The raid was carried out at around 1500 GMT on Friday and was launched to support Mali ground troops in the battle for the key town of Kona.

The French president authorised the operation to support Mali's government after the Islamists launched an offensive outside the territory they had previously captured.

Le Drian said France was compelled to act quickly to stop the Islamist offensive, which he said could allow "a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe."

"During this intense combat, one of our pilots… was fatally wounded," the minister told reporters. The raid was carried out at around 1500 GMT on Friday and was launched to support Mali ground troops in the battle for the key town of Kona. – Sapa-AP & AFP.

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