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More countries sign on to help Mali

  |   Jan. 18, 2013 at 12:38 PM
BAMAKO, Mali, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- International efforts to help Mali's beleaguered government forces fight Islamic militants is gaining momentum as more countries pledge support of some kind.

Meanwhile, French warplanes struck militant targets in Mali Thursday, conducting airstrikes in and around Diabaly in central Mali, about 250 miles from the capital of Bamako, CNN reported.

French fighter jets had been targeted the town since Monday, after rebels set up in a military camp in an area had been abandoned by Malian soldiers.

The Islamic militants told Diabaly residents they could stay and, in some instances, barred the residents from leaving, Cheick Oumar, a construction worker in the town, told CNN.

"People are left without protection," he said. "The rebels say they will not hurt anyone, but people are afraid they will turn Diabaly into a new [Islamic] stronghold and impose Sharia law."

France has been assisting the government of its former African colony since last week, sending warplanes and deploying about 1,400 troops inside Mali.

International powers also appear united in their goal of removing al-Qaida-linked militants from the nation, where Islamic rebels are fighting to form their own territory in the north. Nations have pledged to contribute planes, logistical support, training for the beleaguered government forces, as well as troops.

The United States is supporting the French-led effort in Mali "with intelligence and airlift," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

A Pentagon official told CNN the plan calls for U.S. military aircraft, accompanied by U.S. military security forces, to fly French troops and equipment into a neighboring country, which will be used as a springboard to move on the ground.

The United States hasn't decided whether to grant French requests for surveillance and aerial refueling services, the Defense official said.

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