US refuelers keep French fighters flying in Northern Mali

Since U.S. refueling operations began in the skies above northern Mali on Jan. 27, the Air Force's fleet of KC-10 aerial tankers based in the region have offloaded 360,000 pounds of fuel into French warplanes, DOD spokesman Maj. Robert Firman said on Monday. 

The refueling operations are only one part of the larger military support mission the Pentagon has been running for French forces since they moved into northern Mali, where fighters allied with al Qaeda's West African cell — known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) — have teamed up with Malian separatists to take over that part of the country. 

Aside from supplying French fighters with fuel, American cargo aircraft have ferried over 600 French troops and over 700 tons of weapons and equipment into French-held positions inside Mali, according to Firman. 

The United States has also been feeding intelligence to Paris on the movements of AQIM forces in the area, Defense Department Press Secretary George Little told reporters at the Pentagon in January. 

French warplanes have been pounding al Qaeda targets deep inside northern Mali since Jan. 20, with the help of American intelligence. French ground troops have swept through  key villages and towns in northern Mali, recently taking Timbuktu back from AQIM control. 

Until now, the Pentagon has only agreed to provide intelligence and military logistical support to Paris to aid their attempt to sweep AQIM fighters out of Mali. 

While French troops have been able to push their way north, recent reports claim AQIM fighters have begun to strike back by attacking towns and cities in southern Mali. 

Fighters in northern Mali have also been reportedly stockpiling weapons and supplies in areas in Mali still under AQIM control, preparing to dig in for a protracted fight against French forces.