Dempsey: US poised to support French forces in Africa

U.S. forces are standing at the ready to provide support for French and African troops battling rebel forces in the Central African Republic, according to the Pentagon's top military officer. 

"We're in contact with our French counterparts" regarding the ongoing operation in Africa, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Wednesday. 

Paris has yet to make a formal request for American troops or military assets to back up the United Nations-mandated peacekeeping mission in the central African nation, Dempsey told reporters at the Pentagon. 

"As close partners, bilaterally but also through NATO, we would do whatever we could, " he said, "within our means and capabilities" to supplement French military units on the ground in Africa. 

Sporadic gun battles have repeatedly broken out between Christian rebel fighters and government troops for weeks in the African country, ever since Central African Republic President President Francois Bozize was ousted in coup in March. 

Nearly 100 people have been killed in the ensuing violence, prompting the U.N. to send in the French peacekeeping force, backed by African Union soldiers. 

While no formal request for military support has been made to Washington, the Pentagon has "been helping our allies in Africa, particularly specifically the French in their efforts, and we'll continue that relationship," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during the same briefing. 

The Pentagon deployed American intelligence and airpower assets into Mali in February, in support of the massive French counterterrorism campaign in the country. 

During the four-month counterterrorism operation, French units were able to push out fighters with al Qaeda's West African cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, who had taken over the northern part of the country. 

French and African forces were able to flush out AQIM fighters from the northern city of Gao and group's various strongholds in the country.