Obama Affirms Support for French in Mali in Hollande Call

President Barack Obama reiterated U.S. support for France’s fight against Islamist militants in Mali as part of a broader effort to strengthen security in North Africa and the Middle East, according to a White House statement.

Obama spoke yesterday by telephone with French President Francois Hollande as part of regular consultations on “shared security concerns” that also include Algeria, Libya and Syria, according to the e-mailed statement.

During the call, Hollande thanked Obama for U.S. assistance to France in its battle against Islamic radicals and other militants that have strengthened their hold over much of northern Mali. The U.S. has agreed to supply French forces with intelligence support, as well as logistical aid, including airlift capability.

France intervened on Jan. 11 after Islamist fighters overran the town of Konna, sparking concern they might advance toward Bamako, the capital. The French Defense Ministry said yesterday that 2,500 soldiers have arrived in the landlocked West African country, which gained independence from France in 1960. African nations are deploying a force that may total as many as 3,300 troops.

French and Malian forces pushed back Islamist rebels from Diabaly, 425 kilometers (264 miles) north of Bamako and three other towns this week.

At least 11,000 people have been forced from their homes by the recent fighting, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About 230,000 have been displaced since the crisis began, the agency said Jan. 22.

In their call, Obama and Hollande also affirmed their broader interest in containing terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, blamed for a surge of violence in North Africa. The two leaders also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the need for a swift political transition there.

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