Several Western and African nations are supplying transport and combat aircraft in support of the operation to free Mali from Islamist rebels, including Canada, the UK and Nigeria.
The Nigerian Air Force’s Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Barde, on Wednesday said that the Nigerian Air Force would start deploying aircraft to Mali in order to assist the country contain Islamist fighters. “As I speak to you now, our airplanes have arrived in Port Harcourt,” he said. “Tomorrow morning we are beginning our deployment to Mali.” On Thursday the Nigerian Air Force began the process of sending Alpha Jet, F7 fighters and G.222 transports to Mali, together with an initial batch of 190 Nigerian troops.
Nigeria has pledged to deploy 900 troops to Mali while yesterday around 100 Togolese troops from ECOWAS arrived in Mali to reinforce French and local troops. In December last year ECOWAS was given a United Nations mandate to send 3 300 troops to Mali. Troops from Niger and Chad are massing in neighbouring Niger.
Foreign governments are providing airlift support for the French and African troops that are attempting to drive back al Qaeda-linked militants from Mali’s north.
Canada has contributed aircraft to the operation in Mali, with a Canadian Forces C-17 Globemaster III transport arriving on Malian soil for the first time yesterday. It arrived in Mali’s capital Bamako with a cargo that included a French armoured vehicle. Canada is only providing transport aircraft and not troops.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the C-17 to France for a week, but French President Francois Hollande has asked for the aircraft to be available for longer. France presently has 1 400 troops in Mali, up from 800, but may send as many as 2 500 to the country.
The United Kingdom has also deployed the C-17 to Mali, flying the first aircraft into Bamako on January 14. The aircraft delivered equipment that included three French army VAB armoured personnel carriers. Two UK C-17s are available to provide non-combat support – otherwise France would have to charter similar aircraft if it wants similar airlift capacity. (France has C-160 Transall and C-130H Hercules transports for the Mali mission.) Like the Canadian deployment, the aircraft are available for a week, but this may be extended.
A second RAF C-17 left Paris for Mali on January 15, after the flight was delayed due to a hydraulic problem. The aircraft left RAF Brize Norton on January 13, but was delayed in France for two days whilst a hydraulic problem was fixed.
France launched its military intervention in Mali on January 11, with an airstrike by four Rafales on January 13, which targeted rebel-held training camps and logistics depots. Since then France has continued to strike targets in Mali through the week, and launched ground operations on Wednesday.
On Tuesday Belgium offered two C-130s and two helicopters to France in support of the Mali operation. “Belgium is providing logistical support to the fight against terrorism,” Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said. A total of 75 soldiers would be dispatched to Mali.
German Defence Minister Thomas de Maizere on Wednesday announced that Germany would provide two C-160 Transall transport aircraft to support the ECOWAS deployment in Mali. They will be used to transport troops to the country.
The United States is also providing logistic support to the foreign intervention force in Mali, announcing yesterday that it would provide transport aircraft. An anonymous US defence official told AFP that the US has agreed to help the French with airlift and was working out the details. The US may provide air-to-air refuelling aircraft to refuel French fighter jets as well as unmanned aerial vehicles.
Meanwhile, other foreign assistance includes a European Union military training mission, which was approved by foreign ministers yesterday.
Over 30 000 people have been displaced by recent fighting in Mali, according to the United Nations. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced since March 2012 when the government was overthrown in a coup. This was followed by Islamist militants taking over from Tuareg rebels in the north, who were seeking independence.