The Voice of Nigeria (VON) reports that the first batch of Nigerian troops arrived in Mali on Thursday to reinforce French and Malian troops fighting to halt the advance of al Qaeda-linked rebels from the north of the country.
According to VON, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African Countries) special representative to Mali, Cheikh Toure, said: "The Nigerian troops will immediately join the French troops for the ground offensive against the rebels while troops from Niger and Togo will meet at the Malian border."
The arrival of the first batch of West African troops follows several days of French air strikes against the Islamist rebels.
NBC News reports that a contingent of 100 Togolese troops landed in Bamako before the 200 Nigerian troops arrived. Troops from Niger and Chad are reportedly gathering in Niger, along Mali's east border.
The UN-mandated African mission was originally scheduled for deployment in September but is being deployed earlier to assist French troops moving northward from Bamako in an offensive against the Islamist rebels.
VON reports that the US has offered to assist in transportation of West African troops to Mali. US law prevents the US government from offering direct assistance to Mali’s military because of its involvement in coups.
According to a statement by the US government, explaining its decision to help in transportation of West African troops to Mail, "The assistance is the last option opened to the country under its law because Mali is not a fully fledged democratic country... and it will help the troops to fight alongside their Malian counterpart.”
NBC News reports that meanwhile, an armored column of French troops is holding back from launching a full scale assault on the township of Diabaly, because Islamist fighters had taken refuge in civilian homes and could use residents as shield in the event of fighting. Diabaly, with a population of about 35,000, is about about 360 km north of Bamako, close to the country's border with Mauritania, where AQIM (al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb) has bases.
A woman, a Diabaly resident, who fled the town with her children, said: "The Islamists are still in Diabaly. They are very many of them. Every time they hear a plane overhead, they run into homes, traumatizing the people."
The West African nation of Mali.
The Malian army has also sent reinforcements to Banamba, 140 km from the capital, after insurgents were seen in the country's Boron area border with Mauritania.
Reuters reports that a senior Malian military source, said: "Banamba is in a state of alert. Reinforcements have been sent. Nigerian troops expected to arrive in Bamako today could be deployed there to secure the zone."
French forces numbering 1,400 were sent to Mali to stop the advance of AQIM-backed Malian rebels, the Ansar Dine and MUJWA militants. President Francois Hollande of France ordered the intervention to prevent Islamists from the north from overrunning the country and turning it into an al-Qaeda controlled "terrorist state."
In their first major retaliatory response, Digital Journal reports al Qaeda-linked militants took several foreigners hostage at a gas plant in Algeria. They accused Algeria of co-operating with France to launch the attack in Mali.
A total of 2,500 French troops are expected in Mali. But the French are hoping they can hand over the mission to the West African forces very soon. ECOWAS secured a mandate for a 3,300-strong mission to help Bamako dislodge the rebels in the north.
However, the West African forces will face great logistical challenges. Britain, Germany and the US have pledged logistical and surveillance support.
The escalation of civil war in northern Mali began after soldiers seized government in March last year and suspended the Malian Constitution. Digital Journal reported that the mutiny originated in protests at the manner in which the civilian government was handling the Tuareg mutiny in the north.The Islamist forces seized the opportunity of confusion in Bamako to launch aggressive attacks, overran a large part of the north and imposed a strict rule Islamic rule.