France has launched a ground operation in Mali, and its troops should be in direct combat with radical Islamists "within hours," military officials tell the AP. The incursion began overnight, with troops pressing from the capital into rebel-held northern territory. France also announced yesterday that it was boosting its troop presence from 800 to 2,500, another sign that it's leading an offensive that was originally to be led by Mali's African neighbors.
- West African troops are set to arrive within a week, France's prime minister said yesterday. "France is in the vanguard, but within a week African forces will start to deploy on the ground," he said, according to al-Jazeera.
- Germany is providing military aircraft to transport those African troops, along with $1.3 million in humanitarian aid. The US has offered to help as well, though Leon Panetta said it won't send troops—direct military aid to Mali's coup-installed government is illegal, the Washington Post points out.
- The militants, meanwhile, have actually seized more territory despite the assault, with their fighters embedding themselves in the civilian population, a French military spokesman said. Today they also attacked a BP natural gas field in neighboring Algeria, kidnapping eight people.
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