President Barack Obama's administration had previously been asked by France for refueling assistance and outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has now approved the request, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Obama held telephone talks with French President Francois Hollande on Friday in which the two leaders discussed global security concerns and vowed to work together to tackle extremism across North Africa.
France deployed troops to Mali two weeks ago who have been working with government forces to try to flush out radical Islamist fighters including Al-Qaeda linked rebels who had seized control of several northern towns.
Following on from Obama and Hollande's discussion, Panetta spoke to French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss US military support "to deny terrorists a safe haven in Mali".
Voice of Russia, AFP
By backing the Malian government in fighting Islamists Paris has actually demonstrated its imperial ambitions, and this could not but lead to a sharp increase in violence in Africa. The conflict has gone beyond the borders of Mali.
The crisis in Mali has stirred up a new wave of tension already known thanks to the Arab Spring uprising which ousted many secular regimes. They were, however, replaced by radical Islamists who seek control of the entire continent. As a result, violence will affect Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Algeria and other countries. Expert at the Institute of Africa Anatoly Savateev comments.
"Mauritania could become next country to experience the clashes. Mauritanian hirelings were repeatedly seen among rebels in Afghanistan and in other Muslim countries. Some forces in Mauritania welcome the idea of creating a caliphate which would comprise all territories if there is at least one Muslim person living there."
Islamists could also seize control of Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, the expert says. The Mali operation signals that the war on terror in Africa has entered a new phase. It is evident that the West has been seeking control over the African oil, gas, uranium, gold, diamonds and copper. Foreign interference in Africa, however, just stirs up radical sentiments there. “Most African states cannot feel secure against Al-Qaeda growing strength”, says Vladimir Kukushkin, expert at the Institute of Africa.
Like their Western enemies, Islamists are surely going to get access to the region’s wealth. For example, in Libya religious radicals control two thirds of oil resources. This fact inspires militants abroad. Chief editor of the Russia in Global Politics magazine Feodor Lukyanov criticizes the West for its colonial ambitions…
"The Arab states and Africa reject the idea of being any country’s colony. Meanwhile, the West is being persistent in using exactly this policy, irrespective of the UNSC sanctions."
Well-trained and hostile Tuareg rebels have joined the Malian conflict. Tuaregs inhabit many African countries which makes the spread of violence highly possible.
The so-called civilized countries keep on talking about the urgent need to stop bloodshed and respect human rights but at the same time they pursue their own interests in the area. Islamists, for their part, promise new deadly attacks. The echo of the African bloodbath will be heard in different parts of the world. The political elite, however, does not seem to be bothered about it, hoping to escape violence in their guarded homes.