WASHINGTON The U.S. military has flown five C-17 cargo sorties into the Malian capital to help bring a French mechanized infantry unit into the fight against al Qaeda-affiliated militants in the north of the country, Pentagon officials said on Tuesday.
A small group of U.S. military troops, including two communications personnel, have been on the ground at the airport at Bamako temporarily to help coordinate the logistics for the C-17 flights, a military official said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week that while the United States supported France's decision to put troops into Mali to stop the advance of al Qaeda affiliated troops toward Bamako, the Pentagon had no plans to put U.S. combat troops on the ground there.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the United States had been providing France with intelligence since the outset of the operation. He said the Pentagon had now begun providing airlift capacity and was still reviewing a request for aerial refueling tankers.
"We stand by our French allies. At this point we are providing airlift support to the French and as of January 22 ... the United States Air Force has flown five C-17 sorties moving French personnel, supplies and equipment into the country," Little said. "We have carried more than 124 tons of equipment and supplies and more than 80 passengers."
Another spokesman said the U.S. flights were helping to carry a French mechanized infantry unit to Mali.
Little said the United States had decided not to seek compensation or reimbursement from France for the flights. The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the issue of payment had caused friction between the two sides.
"Compensation and reimbursement is always a point of discussion when it comes to these operations, with the French or other allies for that matter," Little told reporters on Tuesday
"In this instance we have made a decision at this time not to seek reimbursement or compensation," he said. "The focus right now is not on money but is on achieving our shared goal of thwarting militants in northern Mali."
(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)