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USAF to help transport French troops to Mali

Jan. 17, 2013 - 09:30PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 17, 2013 - 09:30PM  |  
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The U.S. Air Force will help to transport French troops to Mali, where they are battling Islamist rebels, U.S. officials confirmed Thursday.

Officials could not provide any details about how many aircraft will be involved in helping to airlift French forces.

U.S. officials have not yet decided whether to also send aerial tankers to refuel French aircraft or provide unmanned surveillance drones for French troops on the ground, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Starting Jan. 11, French forces launched Operation Serval against rebels in Mali, who have become entrenched into the northern part of the country for nearly a year. Recently, the rebels have been advancing toward the country's capital of Bamako.

The rebels are affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which a senior official at U.S. Special Operations Command called a "growing concern" during the Air Force Association's Global Warfare Symposium.

"They have not posed a trans-national threat, per se, to attack the United States homeland, but they are a growing concern to our interests in the region," Garry Reid, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

The group primarily funds itself through kidnapping and ransom, Reid said on Sept. 18.

"They may not have the strongest ideological ties, but they have the advantage of ungoverned spaces in northern Mali, the central Sahara — the most desolate place on earth," Reid said. "So it's not as if there is a police station on every corner — there aren't any corners."

A spokesman for the Taliban recently condemned French military action in Mali.

"All the powerful countries of the world should take lessons from the failed American policy of military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq from which it cannot wrangle free or regain its lost status," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a Jan. 15 statement.

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