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French troops stand guard along the road leading from Markala to Niono, in Markala, approximately 40 km outside Segou, in central Mali, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. French troops pressed northward in Mali toward territory occupied by radical Islamists on Wednesday, military officials said, announcing the start of a land assault that will put soldiers in direct combat "within hours." Residents of Niono, a city in the center of Mali which is just south of a town that was overrun by the jihadists earlier this week, said they saw trucks of French soldiers arrive overnight.

Harouna Traore, Associated Press - Ap

W. Africans to join fight against Mali Islamists

  • Associated Press
  • January 17, 2013 - 1:59 AM

BAMAKO, Mali - An official with the West African regional bloc says troops from Nigeria are expected in Mali nearly a week after French forces began a military operation to oust radical Islamists from power.

Aboudou Toure Cheaka, special representative for the president of the ECOWAS commission, says troops from Niger also will be deployed Thursday along the border between Mali and Niger.

Forces from Burkina Faso and Togo are expected to be in place this weekend or early next week.

France has upwards of 800 troops in Mali, and expects to ramp up to a total of 2,500 that will include French Foreign Legionnaires.

It has committed helicopter gunships, fighter jets, surveillance planes and refueling tankers in the fight against the Islamists who seized control of northern Mali last year.

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