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ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION French cargo planes carrying munitions touched down in Mali's capital, Bamako on Wednesday (January 16) as French forces launched their first ground assault against Islamist rebels in the north of the country. At Bamako airbase, a cargo plane carrying weapons and ammunition touched down, along with two French fighter jets. France has called for international support against Islamist insurgents it says pose a threat to Africa and the West, acknowledging it faces a long fight against the well-equipped militant fighters who seized Mali's vast desert north last year. French army chief Edouard Guillaud said his ground forces were stepping up their operation to engage directly "within hours" with the alliance of Islamist fighters, grouping al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM with Mali's home grown Ansar Dine and MUJWA militant movements. Many inhabitants of northern Mali have welcomed the French attacks against Islamists who have imposed a harsh form of sharia law, cutting off hands and feet for crimes, and destroyed the famed shrines of the ancient desert town of Timbuktu. Residents said French fighter jets struck the headquarters of the Islamic police in Niafunke, a small town on the Niger river near Timbuktu, as part of Operation Serval, named after an African wildcat. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged that France faced a difficult operation, particularly in Western Mali where AQIM's mostly foreign fighters have camps. Mauritania has pledged to close its porous frontier to the Islamists.
Jan. 16 - France continues to reinforce troops as it launches ground campaign against Mali rebels. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) ( Transcript )
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