Just a short recap of the last few days.
The U.S. has started flying supplies into Mali on behalf of the French forces (Reuters – U.S. beings transporting French troops, equipment to Mali). There are reportedly two flights a day to Bamako, the capital.
The U.S. had initially asked for reimbursement for the flights (Wall Street Journal – After French Criticism, Washington Drops Payment Demand). Apparently the French don’t have the airlift capacity to move the troops and needed supplies. Their airlift is not sufficient to support a force projected at 2,500 which currently seems to be about 1,000 or 2,000 on the ground. Wow.
The WSJ article describes the status a few days ago:
But the U.S. has yet to decide on whether to agree to France’s request for U.S. planes to refuel French fighters in flight, they said. France has a small fleet of aging refueling tankers and says more are needed to maintain the tempo of air operations in remote Mali.
They also don’t have the tanker capacity to sustain flight operations.
That gets back to an editorial in the WSJ a few days ago (I’m not going look for the cite) pointing out the reason behind Washington’s comments that the Europeans need to increase their defense spending. Apparently France hasn’t spent the money to have airlift and refueling capacity to project force.
The rebel/insurgent/Islamist forces (there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what to call the group) took Diabaly, a little while ago, a town deeper into southern Mali than they were before. This was a jump past what can be called the ‘front.’ In the last two days, the French and Mali forces retook the town. Apparently the opposition departed in advance of the French & allied troops arrival (Reuters – French troops take central Mali towns, rebels slip away, and WSJ – Islamists Leave Their Mark on Mali Town).
The rebels take over a town and depart before the French forces arrive. Sounds like a battle of maneuver is developing (yeah, yeah, brilliant observation, I hear you say).
The Reuters article just linked provides some info on the level of forces in place:
France, which has made 140 bombing sorties since January 11, …
In Diabaly, the dusty streets were now littered with the charred wreckage of eight rebel pick-up trucks. Residents said 200 Islamist fighters had held them captive for three days as human shields against French air strikes.
France has sent 2,150 ground troops to Mali and deployed jet fighters and attack helicopters that hammered rebel bases for an 11th day on Monday …
Some 1,000 African troops from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the central African nation of Chad have arrived, and that number is expected to top 5,000 in the coming weeks.