U.S. increasing involvement in Mali conflict

A French Mirage 2000 D aircraft refueling while flying to N'Djamena overnight, Jan. 11, 2013, after taking off from the French military base of Nancy. AP Photo/ R.Nicolas-Nelson, Ecpad

At the start of France's military operation in Mali, U.S. officials said they would be providing just intelligence support and refueling operations to French planes en route to the West African country.

Now, however, officials have added U.S. military trainers and troop transport to the list of operations in the region as France also ramps up its ground operation in support of its aerial campaign against Islamic militants in control of Mali's northern territory.

A senior State Department official said, however, the U.S. is "not even contemplating" lethal aid to Mali government or military, reports CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan.

The U.S. military cannot intervene directly in Mali to help their military defeat the terrorists, Brennan reports. U.S. law prohibits Americans from aiding a military junta that has overthrown a democratically elected one. The current Malian government came to power via a coup back in March.

The U.S. agreed Thursday to airlift a French mechanized infantry battalion - about 600 troops with Scorpion tanks, CBS News correspondent David Martin reports. Details of flights are still be worked out.

Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that U.S. military trainers will be on the ground by this weekend, reports CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan.

Western countries had long pledged that sending military trainers to help in the fight in Mali would be the likely extent of their involvement, until France went ahead with it's aerial bombardment campaign.

The U.S. trainers are from the State Department's Africa Contingency Operations Training & Assistance (ACOTA) program. These ACOTA trainers will not be in Mali itself. These trainers will assist with troops from African countries who are contributing forces to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS.)

The U.N. Security Countil authorized military intervention in Mali via ECOWAS months ago but countries have been fighting over who pays for them. The expectation was that 3K troops would deploy by the Fall but clearly events sped up that timetable.

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