France is planning to deploy a total of 2,500 ground troops to Mali, more than three times the number sent so far to its former colony, after it secured fresh UN backing for its military action.
The move suggests Paris is ready to commit more than the current 750 soldiers - and inevitably play a far longer role in the campaign against Islamist groups in northern Mali than previously indicated.
"There will be a gradual build-up to a figure of 2,500," a source close to Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday
The plans to deploy such a large force is at odds with suggestions by government ministers that the involvement of French troops would be limited to protecting Mali's capital, Bamako.
According to Le Monde and other French media, France is also planning to base a substantial contingent of troops at Mopti in central Mali to carry out operations in the north of the country.
It comes after a meeting of the 15-nation UN Security Council on Mali expressed unanimous "understanding and support" for the intervention, France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, of which Mali is a member, has called for a truce.
France kept up its air strikes on Islamist rebels on Monday, ahead of the expected deployment of a 3,300-strong UN-sanctioned African force next week.
While the US promised non-combat support planes to back France, officials made clear President Barack Obama was deeply reluctant to plunge it into a fresh war against insurgents.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters