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U.S. to keep supporting French military effort in Mali: Pentagon chief

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis attends a news conference with French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly (not pictured) at the Defence Ministry in Paris, France, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) - The United States has no plans to reduce its support for the French-led military campaign against Islamist militants in Mali, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis said on Tuesday.

Jihadist attacks in Mali have tripled in the past three years, according to some civil society groups, and the militants have spread from the country’s north to the center and even targeted Bamako - as in 2015, when gunmen killed 20 people in a raid on the Radisson Blu hotel - as well as Mali’s neighbors.

“We have no intention of cutting back one bit on that support,” Mattis said during a press conference with his French counterpart in Paris.

“We will maintain the intelligence support, our logistic support and we fully embrace the French mission there as do a number of our other allies,” Mattis said.

France, which has 4,500 troops in the region, has been dismayed to see the militants score military and symbolic victories in Mali and beyond in the Sahel while a regional force has struggled to win financing and become fully operational.

Mattis also said that the number of U.S. diplomats in Syria has doubled as Islamic State militants near a military defeat.

Reporting by Idrees Ali; writing by Richard Lough, Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean