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West African troops 'in Mali within 48 hours'

West African troops 'in Mali within 48 hours'
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West African nations could begin deploying troops in Mali within 48 hours, according to the head of the beleaguered country’s army.

As military chiefs from the region met in Bamako to discuss the operation, Ibrahim Dembele said the situation would have become catastrophic without French intervention.

One source said Niger and Nigeria were ready to send in troops overland.

The European Union has been looking to increase its involvement. Several countries have pledged logistical support.

So has the US, whose Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was in Rome. His Italian counterpart and host, Giampaolo Di Paola, said both countries backed the French intervention to stop the jihadist advance. The European plan would become clearer, he added, after EU foreign ministers meet on Thursday.

Mali’s foreign minister is due to be present in Brussels. The meeting is expected to focus on developing a training programme for Malian troops, already voted through last month. Around ten EU countries have promised to send personnel and equipment.

A Belgian airforce transport plane left Brussels on Wednesday carrying 35 soldiers en route for Mali. Another plane and two helicopters are also to be involved. The Belgian defence minister said help would be restricted to medical assistance and supplies.