Paris — France has committed 1,700 troops, of which 800 are on the ground, to the military intervention in Mali against Islamist and Tuareg rebel fighters, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Jan. 15.
The French operation, dubbed Serval, will support the Malian government against the insurgents. It includes ground troops, light tanks, Mirage and Rafale fighter jets and Gazelle attack helicopters, backed by French military bases in Ivory Coast and Chad, Le Drian told a news conference on the fifth day of combat.
The aircraft have flown some 50 sorties since operations began Jan. 11, said the chief of the Defense Staff, Adm. Edouard Guillaud.
France is coordinating with its principal partners to further strengthen its intelligence capabilities, as indicated by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Le Drian said.
The French forces deployed within five hours of the order from President François Hollande for “quick and strong” action, Le Drian said.
France’s three objectives are: stop the insurgents’ offensive and the threat to the Malian state; preserve the sovereignty and integrity of Mali; and accelerate the tempo and international deployment of African forces to act against the rebels and the training by European forces of the Malian Army, Le Drian said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, along with Guillaud, Le Drian and other senior civilian and military officials, led a funeral tribute to an Army Air Corps pilot, Lt. Damien Boiteux, in the honor courtyard of the Invalides, a national monument to the Army.
Boiteux, attached to a special forces helicopter unit, died from wounds received on the first day of combat, when fighter jets and helicopters were used to block the insurgents’ advance toward the south of Mali and its capital, Bamako.
In the Mali campaign, France has deployed five air tankers; 12 fighters, including four Rafales, six Mirage 2000D bombers and two Mirage F1 CR reconnaissance planes; and five transport planes, comprising C-160 and C-130 airlifters.
The Rafale and Mirage 2000D are based at N’Djamena, Chad, while the F1 units are based at Bamako. Some 30 armored vehicles, including Sagaie light tanks and VAB troop carriers, arrived from the Licorne military mission in Ivory Coast.
French defense officials declined to confirm reports the government plans to commit a total of 2,500 troops to the Mali campaign. That figure compares to the 2,400 troops deployed in the Lafayette Task Force in Afghanistan, before France completed withdrawing troops from combat duties at the end of last year.