African force in Mali now numbers 1,000: French army

PARIS Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:06pm EST

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PARIS (Reuters) - There are now 1,000 soldiers from West Africa and Chad on the ground in Mali forming the basis of a force to fight Islamist rebels in Mali, France's armed forces spokesman said on Monday.

The African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), which should eventually number several thousand troops, currently has 830 soldiers from West African nations such as Togo, Benin, Niger and Nigeria and 170 from Chad.

They are engaged with France's 2,150-strong force, helping the Malian army push back the rebels. France, the former colonial power, has made 140 bombing sorties since its aerial campaign began on January 11, Burkhard said.

On Monday, French and Malian armoured columns moved into an area of central Mali around the towns of Diabaly or Doeuntza as al Qaeda-linked rebels withdrew. There was no fighting, according to the French spokesman.

A U.S. flight bringing logistical support to France's campaign arrived on Sunday evening, he said. Cargo planes from European nations including Britain have already arrived.

(Reporting by John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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