|Photo released by the French Defense Ministry shows French soldiers getting prepared at the Bamako military airport as part of the "Serval" operation in Mali, Jan. 13, 2013. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday that 1,700 French officers and soldiers were deployed to the operations, 800 of them on the ground. (Xinhua/French Defense Ministry)|
BAMAKO, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- France on Tuesday pledged to triple the size of its force fighting al-Qaida-linked rebels in Mali, while West African army chiefs postponed their agreement on deployment of regional troops.
France, which has already deployed hundreds of troops to the West African country and carried out scores of bombing attacks since Friday in the rebel-held northern half of Mali, said it plans to increase the number of troops to 2,500.
The commitment came as the Malian forces failed to repel Islamist rebels from Diabaly, a central town of strategic importance, despite five days of French air strikes.
Local residents saw a column of French armored vehicles leaving the capital Bamako and marching towards Diabaly late Tuesday, however, there is no official comments on probably the first major northward advancement of ground forces.
According to French sources, the well-armed and mobile rebels would be able to regroup and launch attacks in a vast region of desert and mountains, if the French air strikes were not followed immediately by ground attacks.
French President Francois Hollande, who has been visiting the United Arab Emirates, told reporters that his country's goal was to make sure when the troops leave and the intervention ends, Mali would have legitimate leaders, an electoral process and no more terrorists threatening its territory.
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