Jan. 16 - France appears to be gearing up for a long campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali, while ECOWAS troops were expected on the ground by the weekend. Simon Hanna reports.
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These are some of the hundreds of soldiers that France has poured into Mali since Friday to combat Islamist rebels.
And according to France's defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, they could be HERE for some time.
(SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH DEFENCE MINISTER JEAN-YVES LE DRIAN:
"We're in a better position than last week but the combat continues and it will be long. Let's be honest the goal is to make sure that Mali regains all of its territory's sovereignty."
Belgium on Wednesday began contributing by sending two planes with dozens of soldiers on board to help reinforce transport infrastrucure, connecting the Ivory Coast to French troops in Mali.
Brussels is also sending two medical helicopters to support French and African troops fighting Islamist rebels.
West African troops were expected to join the conflict "within 48 hours".
The announcement came from Malian army chief Ibrahim Dembele on the fringe of an ECOWAS meeting in Bamako.
Dembele said there were logistical difficulties but West African soldiers should be engaging on the ground "very soon".
Regional forces are scrambling to accelerate an operation which was initially not expected until September.
The move has been brought forward by France's surprise bombing campaign last week aimed at stopping a rebel advance.
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