- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Defense Department is providing transportation and communication support to French troops in their campaign against al Qaeda in northern Mali, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.

Five Air Force C-17 transport planes have carried more than 80 French troops and 124 tons of supplies and equipment into the West African country, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters.

Since France began its campaign against Islamist militants in Mali 10 days ago, the Pentagon also has provided communications support to French forces, Mr. Little said.

“We continue to consult with the French on further steps that we may take as the U.S. government to support their effort in Mali,” he said, adding that the U.S. has not asked the French for compensation or reimbursement.

“The focus right now is not on money, but achieving our shared goal of thwarting militants in Mali,” he said.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb “has grown in threat over the years, and we need to do whatever we can to thwart them,” the Pentagon spokesman said.

According to The Associated Press, French and Malian troops arrived Monday in the northern town of Douentza, which Islamists had held for four months, and found that the militants had retreated.

“The Malian military and the French army spent their first night, and the people are very happy,” a resident named Sali Maiga said Tuesday.

A curfew went into effect at 8 p.m., and no gunfire or other incidents were reported overnight, Mr. Maiga said.

Earlier this month, Mali’s weak central government asked France to help combat Islamists who have taken control of large swaths of the West African country amid the chaos caused by a coup by Malian troops last year.

Mali is a former colony of France, which has maintained a close interest in its former colonies and has staged several military interventions in recent decades

France now has more than 3,000 troops involved in Operation Serval in Mali, with about 2,000 troops in the country. French fighter jets have struck Islamist strongholds deep inside Mali’s vast northern desert.

The U.N. Security Council has condemned the takeover in the north by Islamist extremist groups and tribal rebels, and authorized a peacekeeping force last year. But the African-led force was not slated to deploy until the fall.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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