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Mali: First French death confirmed as troops arrive in Bamako

A French pilot is confirmed dead in Mali, France's first casualty since it launched its military operation against Islamist militants there on Friday.

Mali france intervention 12 01 2013Enlarge
A man holds a banner that reads 'No to negotiation, only war in the north' as thousands of Malians gather in Bamako on December 8, 2012 for a demonstration to support the Malian army and demand a UN Security Council resolution approving the deployment of an international force in the country's north, controlled for several months by Islamist armed groups. (HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)

France stepped up its military intervention in Mali on Saturday, continuing airstrikes and sending hundreds of troops into the capital, Bamako.

At least one French service member has been killed since the operation was launched on Friday.

A pilot was fatally injured when Islamist rebels shot down his helicopter near the central town of Mopti, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced at a press conference, according to Reuters.

Le Drian said "several hundred" French troops were now protecting the capital, while Rafale fighter jets were ready to be deployed.

More from GlobalPost: France begins airstrikes on Mali

They are due to get reinforcements from Mali's neighbors: West African bloc ECOWAS has authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali, the group's leaders announced Saturday.

Soldiers should have begun arriving by Monday "at the latest," an official from the Ivory Coast government, which currently holds the ECOWAS chairmanship, told Reuters.

Meanwhile the European Union has promised to expedite its plan to send troops to help train Malian forces, foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Friday.

The government of Mali and other countries in the region have warned for months of the danger presented by Islamist rebel groups who seized control of much of northern Mali around nine months ago.

French President Francois Hollande announced that France would intervene after rebels took the stragetically important city of Konna, in the center of Mali, on Thursday. With France's help, government forces have since reclaimed the town.

A spokesman for one of the insurgent groups, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has called the operation a "crusader intervention" and warned that France is "digging the graves of [its] sons," the BBC reported.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130112/mali-france-troops-arrive-bamako