French forces fly over central northern Mali as they intensify their ongoing mission in the West African nation. France is deploying ground troops and war planes in an effort to halt an Islamist advance. Analysts say France and its African allies must deploy ground forces quickly to capitalize on 10-days of hard-hitting air strikes to prevent insurgents from regrouping in the desert. On Sunday Tuareg separatists in Niger pledged to join the fight. (SOUNDBITE) (French) MNLA SPOKESMAN, IBRAHIM AG MOHAMED ASSALEH, SAYING: "We want to fight against the terrorists, next to ECOWAS and the international community." Last year a Tuareg uprising in the North was hijacked by Islamist groups, which had initially fought alongside them but soon drove them from power. In Mali, government forces face a tough fight. (SOUNDBITE) (French) MALIAN ARMY COLONEL SEIBOU SOKOBA, SAYING: "You know the war against Islamists is not easy. They have mixed in deep within the population and slowly, slowly certain elements of the population will adhere to their cause. That's what makes war difficult with these people." Last week the UN said Malians fleeing to neighboring countries said they were subjected to rape, executions and amputations by the Islamists
Jan. 20 - French troops intensify battle against al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali as some Tuareg separatists pledge to join the fight. Deborah Lutterbeck reports ( Transcript )
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