by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) Jan 18, 2013
The Malian army has retaken the central town of Konna which fell to Islamist rebels advancing from the north and sparked French military intervention, the military and a regional security source said Friday.
"We have wrested total control of Konna after inflicting heavy losses on the enemy," an army statement said.
A regional security source and local residents confirmed the claim.
Islamic rebel groups who have controlled northern Mali since April pushed south into government-held territory and seized Konna, about 700 kilometres (400 miles) by road from the capital Bamako, on January 10.
That prompted former colonial ruler France to intervene to stop the rebel advance. Initially the French role was limited to air power, but it has since launched ground offensives.
While the Malian army earlier reported it had regained control of Konna, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the zone was still in the Islamists' hands.
The area is not accessible to independent observers.
The UN special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said the French air and ground intervention in Mali was the only way to stop Islamists creating "a terrorist safe haven in the heart of Africa".
On Thursday, more French troops poured into Mali, boosting their number to 1,400. At full strength the force will reach 2,500 soldiers.
African troops pledged for Mali mission start arriving
The regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has pledged to send 3,000 soldiers for the MISMA (International Mission for Support to Mali) in line with a United Nations resolution.
The force will be headed by Nigerian General Shehu Abdulkadir and some 2,000 soldiers are expected in Mali by January 26.
The first contingent of troops pledged by African nations, 40 Togolese soldiers, arrived in Mali on Thursday,
Mali's former colonial ruler France has at this stage a total of 1,400 boots on the ground in Mali, according to the defence ministry in Paris. This will progressively be increased to 2,500 troops.
European Union nations gave their support to France for its military campaign in Mali and offers of military aid, possibly including troops, at emergency talks on the crisis in Brussels on Thursday.
Regional powerhouse Nigeria plans to send a total of 900 troops and a contingent of around 100 soldiers left the country Thursday. A Nigerian technical team, in addition to the Nigerian force commander, are already deployed on the ground.
Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member, has promised 2,000 soldiers and Togo a total of 540 men. The rest are due to come by the end of the week.
Niger, Senegal and Burkina Faso have promised 500 soldiers each, Benin has said it will deploy 300 men, Guinea will put 150 boots on the ground and Ghana 120.
US to provide transport planes to French forces in Mali
"We've agreed to help the French with airlift. And we're now working out the details," a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
However, there was still no final approval on a request from Paris to help refuel French warplanes with American tanker aircraft, he and another defense official said.
The US government had already agreed to bolster intelligence sharing to assist the French, including information from surveillance drones and spy satellites, officials said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the move to put intelligence resources and transport planes at the disposal of French troops.
"We are supporting the French operation in Mali with intelligence and airlift," she said in Washington after meeting Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
The American transport planes would likely be used to ferry French tanks, armored vehicles and other heavy equipment.
The United States has a vast fleet of military transport planes at a network of bases in Europe and elsewhere, along with refueling tankers, which are in increasingly short supply in France and other NATO countries.
Since the French launched its armed intervention last week against advancing Islamist fighters in Mali, President Barack Obama's administration has hesitated to give a green light to logistical support, partly due to a policy dilemma.
Since Malian military officers staged a coup last March, the US administration had suspended any direct aid to the new leadership until democracy was fully restored.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta referred to legal considerations when he was asked by reporters about Washington's deliberations on delivering assistance to the French.
"One thing I've learned is every time I turn around, I face a group of lawyers. And it's no different now," Panetta said Wednesday during a visit to Rome.
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