Published: January 16. 2013 4:00AM PST
French troops gather Tuesday in a hangar at the airport in Bamako, Mali.
After a punishing bombing campaign failed to halt the advance of al-Qaida-linked fighters, France pledged Tuesday to triple the size of its force in Mali — from 800 to 2,500 — as it prepared for a land assault to dislodge the militants occupying the northern half of the country.
The move reversed France’s earlier insistence on providing only aerial and logistical support for a military intervention led by African ground troops.
France plunged headfirst into the conflict in its former colony last week, bombarding the insurgents’ training camps, arms depots and safe houses in an effort to shatter the Islamist domination of a region many fear could become a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the West and a magnet for extremists from around the world.
Despite five days of airstrikes the rebels have extended their reach, taking over a strategically important military camp in the central Malian town of Diabaly on Monday.
— The Associated Press
Jerome Delay / New York Times News Service