BAMAKO, Mali, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- The United States has increased its aid to French forces fighting Islamist militants in Mali, providing aerial refueling and transportation, the Pentagon said.
The United States agreed to the refueling missions Saturday after a call between U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Drian, CNN reported Sunday.
"The leaders also discussed plans for the United States to transport troops from African nations, including Chad and Togo, to support the international effort in Mali. Secretary Panetta and Minister Le Drian resolved to remain in close contact as aggressive operations against terrorist networks in Mali are ongoing," a statement from the Pentagon read.
The U.S. Air Force has flown at least seven missions into Mali, carrying 200 passengers and 168 tons of equipment, said Maj. Robert Firman, a Pentagon spokesman.
The United States had mulled how deeply to get involved in the conflict, which could have broader political and strategic implications, aides said.
Intelligence reports said the extremists in Mali are no direct threat to the United States, but they can threaten the region. "And that's where the argument for American involvement comes in," said one official.
American policy prohibits direct military aid to Mali because its government is the result of a coup, CNN reported. Leaders in Mali must be chosen through an election first.