PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to increase its troops in Mali to 2,500 in the days ahead and is working to speed up the deployment of West African troops for a campaign against Islamist rebels, the government said on Monday.
A defense ministry spokesman told Reuters troops would be sent to bolster the 600 already deployed.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels launched a counter-offensive in Mali on Monday after four days of French air strikes on their northern strongholds, seizing the central town of Diabaly and promising to drag France into a brutal Afghanistan-style war.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said EU foreign ministers would meet this week to try to accelerate the arrival of a training mission for the Malian army.
An EU diplomat in Brussels said the meeting was likely to take place on Thursday.
“International political backing is almost unanimous,” Fabius told a news conference, saying Paris had been assured of the full backing of its partners including logistical support.
“France will not be alone in this mission,” he said.
He said that preparations were being stepped up for a West African force initially planned for around September which should include some 600 soldiers from Nigeria, around 500 each from Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Senegal and 300 from Benin.
Britain has supplied two cargo planes for France’s use and Fabius said Germany was offering medical, humanitarian and logistical support.
The United States has offered help with transport, communications and intelligence while Belgium and Denmark were also helping with transport.
Fabius said he had spoken to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who told him an exceptional meeting would be held this week to discuss the situation in Mali.
“We will take decisions allowing the acceleration of the deployment of the European advice and training mission for the Mali army,” he said.
Reporting by John Irish, Brian Love, Emmanuel Jarry and Catherine Bremer; editing by Jason Neely