French soldiers heading to Mali, January 2013..
(photo credit: Reuters)
PARIS - France is ready to pursue militants on the ground in Mali's north with armored vehicles in addition to the air strikes already under way, the chief of staff for the French armed forces said on Tuesday.
Admiral Edouard Guillaud said that light armored vehicles would be used if it proved necessary, adding that some such vehicles had arrived from the Ivory Coast.
"This is aimed at helping the Malian forces, which are still fighting," Guillaud told a news conference on the French intervention.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that 1,700 French troops were involved in the operations, 800 of them on the ground.
French warplanes and helicopters had carried out 50 sorties since operations began on Friday after Islamist rebels in the northeast seized the central city of Konna, Guillaud said.
Le Drian said Malian forces had not yet retaken Konna, which is a gateway from the rebel-held northeast to the capital Bamako, 600 km (375 miles) away to the southwest. He said rebels also remained active in the western town of Diabaly, from where they still represented a threat to southern Mali.
France's intervention has dramatically recast President Francois Hollande as a war leader. A BVA poll released on Tuesday indicated that three out of four citizens backed it.
Hollande said on a visit to Dubai that France would end its intervention only once Mali's stability had been restored.