French troops in Mali to fight extremists

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PARIS — French troops started military operations today against Islamist extremists in Mali, alongside forces from the West African country, dramatically upping the stakes in a conflict in a swath of lawless desert where al-Qaida-linked terrorism and kidnappings have flourished.

France has led a diplomatic push for international action in northern Mali. But efforts to get an African-led force together, or to train the weak Malian army, have dragged. The announcement today came as the Islamists who control northern Mali advance ever closer toward the furthest town still under government control.

“Mali is facing a terrorist aggression,” France’s President Francois Hollande said today. He said the French operation would last “as long as necessary” and said it was aimed notably at protecting the 6,000 French citizens in Mali, a former French colony.

The move is risky for the four French hostages being held by extremists in Mali, who had threatened to retaliate if France intervened.

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