French troops in Mali; Hollande vows to stop Islamists

"The very existence of the friendly state of Mali is at stake"

From Emily Alpert, Los Angeles Times:  French troops have joined the Malian military in their fight to stop Islamist fighters from extending their reach into central Mali, President Francois Hollande said in a statement Friday.

Mali pleaded for French help Thursday after the strategic city of Konna fell to Islamist extremists, dealing a serious blow to the military and threatening a nearby airport. Reports quickly emerged Friday that French muscle was aiding in the push to eject rebels from Konna.

Hours after announcing that France “will be ready to stop the terrorists’ advance, if it continues," Hollande confirmed to reporters that French troops were supporting Malian units and would do so "as long as is necessary," Agence France-Presse reported.

A U.N. council has already approved plans to send thousands of West African troops to Mali, but officials cautioned last month that no action was likely before September. It has insisted on steps to stabilize the Malian government and firm up military planning before the international forces are deployed.

The fall of Konna put new pressure on world powers to act. Until this week, the Islamist fighters had kept to the arid north of the country. The push southward has set off alarm bells that rebels could seize more territory, drawing closer to the seat of government in the south.  (photo: Philippe Wojazer/AFP)