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France to buy American drones for Mali operation

France to buy American drones for Mali operation
Two of America’s medium-altitude Reaper drones will be sold to France as backup for the country’s operations against Islamist rebels in Mali.

The news comes from the ‘Air et Cosmos’ specialist magazine, which reported online that a deal had been reached between France and the United States for the sale of two non-armed MQ-9 units.

The French air force had already deployed a European-made Harfang drone to Mali, with the country now wishing to acquire more modern models quickly, although any purchase of the US Reapers directly from the manufacturer (as was done with Harfang) is expected to delay delivery by seven months.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is presently on a visit to the US, where he is expected to make the announcement, according to Air et Cosmos. The defense ministry has declined to comment.

In a bid to curb the spread of extremism and Al Qaeda-linked militants in the northern parts of its former colony, France started a military operation in January of this year. The anti-government Islamists had spread Sharia law everywhere they went, and it is widely feared that if they are successful in Mali, the country will become a hotspot for extremism and the launching of terrorist attacks against European and other African nations. 

French efforts have since pushed the militants into mountain and desert hideouts. However, this changed the rules of the game in such a way that they now launch sporadic guerrilla attacks.

French soldiers take position during a false alert by the population signaling the presence of MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) members in a street in Gao on April 13, 2013. (AFP Photo / Joel Saget)

Operation ‘Serval’ started with a deployment of 2,500 troops and the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declaring on January 30 that they would be out of there “quickly”. Since that time, that number has risen to 4,000, while the departure date had been moved up. Currently, the idea is that half will leave by July, when Mali holds their presidential election.

Although Paris has begun withdrawal from the West African nation, ahead of the security handover to the International Mission for Support to Mali (MISMA), Le Drian’s recent visit to London paints a different picture, whereby 1,000 French troops will stay in Mali indefinitely, in case further problems arise.

"This is the reason why France will remain with roughly 1,000 troops on Malian territory for an undetermined period of time to carry out counter-terrorism operations if necessary,"
said Le Drian.

As the battle against extremism in Mali shows no signs of abating, international donors have pledged €3.25bn to its rebuilding, as currently the country is in a state of complete destitution.