France to send 2,500 troops to Mali, official says

By SYLVIE CORBET | January 15, 2013 | 10:33 AM EST

Malian soldiers helped by French troops, move a broken helicopter out a hangar to make room for more incoming troops at Bamako's airport Tuesday Jan. 15. 2013. French forces led an all-night aerial bombing campaign Tuesday to wrest control of a small Malian town from armed Islamist extremists who seized the area, including its strategic military camp. A a convoy of 40 to 50 trucks carrying French troops crossed into Mali from Ivory Coast as France prepares for a possible land assault. Several thousand soldiers from the nations neighboring Mali are also expected to begin arriving in coming days. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

PARIS (AP) — An official at France's Defense Ministry says the country will "gradually deploy" a total of 2,500 troops to Mali, and the French president says the military operation will last until security has been restored and African forces are ready to take charge.

A French Defense Ministry official who was not able to speak publicly about the total and requested anonymity said there were 800 troops currently in Mali and more on the way.

In a news conference Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates, President Francois Hollande said France would remain to stop militants linked to al-Qaida from seizing the country, secure its capital and help the government regain control.

He said France would take a lesser role "as soon as there is an African force, in coming days or weeks."