BAMAKO, Mali – French forces arrived Friday to help Malian soldiers fight against radical Islamists, drawing the former colonial power into a military operation to oust the al-Qaida-linked militants nine months after they seized control of northern Mali.
The arrival of the French dramatically ups the stakes in a conflict taking place in a swath of lawless desert where terrorism and kidnapping have flourished.
It also comes as the Islamists advance ever closer toward the most northern city still under government control and after they fought the Malian military for the first time in months.
French President Francois Hollande said Friday that the operation would last “as long as necessary” and said it was aimed notably at protecting the 6,000 French citizens in Mali. Kidnappers currently hold seven French hostages in the country.