West African leaders headed to a special Mali summit in Ivory Coast yesterday to discuss how to step up their role as the French-led military intervention to oust Islamic extremists from power entered its second week.
Neighboring countries are expected to contribute about 3,000 troops to the operation in Mali, aimed at preventing militants from advancing further south toward the capital.
While some initial contributions from Togo and Nigeria have arrived, concerns about the mission have delayed other countries from sending their promised troops so far.
Ivory Coast Minister of Foreign Affairs Charles Koffi Diby said that Mali’s neighbors must “face up to the weight of our responsibilities in conducting and coordinating military operations in Mali.”
At yesterday’s meeting, the big issue was to be sorting out a central command for the African force, a French official said on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive security matters.
Nigerian General Shehu Usman Abdulkadir is expected to be named the force commander.
As the military intervention entered its second week, Malian forces had reclaimed the key town of Konna whose capture prompted the French action, French and Malian military officials said. However, telephone lines to the town were still down, making it difficult to independently corroborate the claim.
France said it was keeping up the pressure around another key town, Diabaly, which was taken by the Islamists on Monday.
French forces have moved around Diabaly to cut off supplies to the Islamist extremists, said a French official who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss sensitive security matters.
The UN’s refugee agency said on Friday that the fighting in Mali could force as many as 700,000 people to flee their homes in the coming months.