Residents of northern Mali welcomed on Sunday the military intervention against Islamist rebels, but African nations were still struggling to get their troops on the ground due to financial shortfalls and logistical hurdles.

During an emergency summit in Ivory Coast on Saturday, West African leaders asked the international community to provide more support in Mali. To date, just 100 African troops - out of a planned contingent of 5,800 - have reached Mali’s capital Bamako.

About 2,000 French ground troops are leading the fight against Islamist insurgents in the country’s north. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has stressed that Africa ultimately “must take the lead.” Northern Mali’s local population is “relieved and happy that liberation is under way,” El Hadj Baba Haidara, a member of parliament for Timbuktu, told Malian news website Afribone in an interview. Northern Malian leaders had been appealing to the international community for help since May, he said.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), however, is not pleased by the pressure it has been put under to deploy its troops.

France had “imposed” a military option, head of ECOWAS and Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara complained, while West African leaders were still trying to find a political solution to the conflict.

African troops had initially scheduled to reach Mali only in September. Their deployment is now been planned for the coming weeks.

Despite the complaints, ECOWAS was nevertheless hoping for a quick resolution to the conflict, Mr. Ouattara said, so as to prevent Mali from “becoming a nest for terrorists.” African Union (AU) chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also expressed “concern over the worsening of the scourge of terrorism” in the entire Sahel-Saharan region.

In other developments, unidentified gunmen killed two Nigerian soldiers who were on their way to Mali to help fight Islamist rebels, according to local newspapers reports. Several other soldiers were severely injured in the ambush.

A contingent of 190 soldiers was attacked on Saturday morning while travelling in three busses through Kogi state towards Bamako when it came under fire, Colonel Femi Olorunyomi told Nigerian newspaper The Tribune. Improvised explosives had also been planted on the highway.

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