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US begins transporting French troops to Mali: military

A French soldier deployed near city of Diabaly  keeps post from a machine gun mounted vehicle on January 22, 2013
A French soldier deployed near city of Diabaly keeps post from a machine gun mounted vehicle on January 22, 2013. The US military has started airlifting French troops and equipment into Mali to assist their operation against Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel

The US military has started airlifting French troops and equipment into Mali to assist their operation against Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said Tuesday.

"At the request of the French government, we have begun flying equipment and personnel from France to Mali," an AFRICOM spokesman, Chuck Prichard, told AFP.

"We expect the mission to last for the next several days. As of yet we've had two flights that have landed and we anticipate more in the coming days."

He said the flights had started on Monday but declined to provide further details, referring queries to the French defence ministry.

"We have worked out a schedule that meets the needs of the French," Prichard said. "Over the next several days there will be several flights."

AFRICOM is based in the southwestern German city of Stuttgart.

A spokesman for the French military in Paris, Thierry Burkhard, said the planes were mainly carrying equipment.

"It began yesterday (Monday) and is continuing today with three American C-17 (military transport aircraft) doing rotations between Istres and Bamako," Burkhard said, referring to an air force base in southern France and the Malian capital.

"The priority is to move heavy, bulky things" such as armoured vehicles, he said.

The French military had already said that the US would provide planes primarily to ferry African troops from their own countries into Mali.

France came to Mali's aid 10 months after it lost over half its territory to Islamists who have enforced an extreme form of Islamic law in northern towns, amid rising fears that the vast area could become a new haven for Al-Qaeda.

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