French Troops Work to Stop al-Qaeda Takeover in Mali

(NECN/NBC News, Annabel Roberts) - A massive coordinated international effort led by France is underway to stop al Qaeda-linked rebels from taking over the African country of Mali.

More military equipment is arriving in the landlocked north-western African nation, including several hundred heavily armed French troops.

The troops have been deployed to the country in the effort to win back a key area from the well-organized Islamist rebels.

French troops on the ground in Mali in West Africa are continuing their assault on the Islamist rebels who last week started to spread out from their base in the north of the country.

French President Francois Hollande said air strikes overnight hit their target - but in spite of this the rebels, who're linked to Al Qaeda, have been making substantial advances.

The concern is the rebels could turn the country into a haven for terrorists and a base for attacks in Africa and Europe.

The French say the rebels are surprisingly well armed and resistance in some areas has been tough.

There are currently 750 French troops on the ground in this former French colony and it's expected altogether two and a half thousand will be deployed.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. has no plans to send troops but is considering other forms of assistance for the French forces, like reconnaissance and airlift support.

"The fact is that the war on terrorism continues, we have made good progress, we have undermined their ability to conduct the kind of attacks that they would like to conduct but the war on terrorism continues," Panetta said.

Other West African countries ARE sending troops.

The French are aware this military intervention is unlikely to be quick, rebel leaders warn it will escalate and the French will find themselves involved in a bitter struggle.

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