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The Islamists took Diabaly several days later — 270 miles away from the capital — as part of an alarming descent into central Mali and closer to the government seat of power in Bamako.

France, which as of Saturday had 2,000 troops in Mali and continued to ramp up, wants African forces to eventually take the lead. The French foreign minister, attending a West African summit in Ivory Coast on Saturday, said such a handover could take weeks.

Neighboring countries are expected to contribute around 3,000 troops to the operation. While some initial contributions from Togo, Nigeria and Benin have arrived to help the French, concerns about the mission have delayed other neighbors from sending their promised troops so far.

A donors conference for the U.N.-backed Mali mission is set to take place in Ethiopia’s capital on Jan. 29.

• Andy Drake in Niono, Mali; Robbie Corey-Boulet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; and Jamey Keaten in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this article.