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France to buy US Reaper drones for Mali


France will buy two medium-altitude Reaper drones from the United States air force to back up its operations against Islamists in Mali, the Air et Cosmos specialist magazine reported on Friday.

It said on its online edition that an agreement had been reached for the purchase of two non-armed MQ-9 drones from the US air force.

It said the French air force, which has deployed the Harfang drone in Mali -- made by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company -- wanted to acquire more modern drones quickly.

Any purchase of new Reapers directly from its manufacturer General Atomics would mean a delay of several months.

Air et Cosmos said an official announcement could be made by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is currently visiting the United States.

The French defence ministry refused to comment on the report.

France launched a military offensive in its former colony Mali in January and has since pushed the Al-Qaeda-linked militants into desert and mountain hideouts, from where they are staging guerrilla attacks.

But Paris has begun withdrawing its 4,500 troops deployed in the west African nation and started handing over the reins to an African force, the International Mission for Support to Mali (MISMA).