ABU DHABI (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday the deployment of a joint African force to Mali where French troops are battling al Qaeda-affiliated militants could take “a good week.”
Speaking from a French military base in Abu Dhabi at the start of a day-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, Hollande said French forces in Mali since Friday had carried out further strikes overnight “which hit their targets.”
“We will continue the deployment of forces on the ground and in the air,” Hollande said. “We have 750 troops deployed at the moment and that will keep increasing so that as quickly as possible we can hand over to the Africans.”
France plans to deploy a total 2,500 soldiers in its former colony to bolster the Malian army and work with a planned force of 3,300 West African troops from the immediate region foreseen in a U.N.-backed intervention plan to be led by Africans.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius - accompanying Hollande on a visit aimed at firming up trade relations and making progress on a possible sale of 60 French Rafale fighter jets - said he was confident Gulf Arab states would also help the Mali campaign.
Fabius said there would be a meeting of donors for the Mali operation most likely in Addis Ababa at the end of January.
Hollande visited a French naval base in Abu Dhabi, home to 700 soldiers and six Rafales out of the 100 in the French air force, which could be used to supply troops and equipment for the Mali operation.
Fabius said on Sunday he expected the current level of the French involvement in Mali to go on for “a matter of weeks” before it was able to hand over more operations to others.
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Raissa Kasolowsky; Writing by Catherine Bremer; editing by Mark John