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US sending military cargo planes to help French in Mali offensive

Joe Penney / Reuters

French military pass the the town of Konobougou on their way to Segou, Mali, on Jan. 17. European Union states will send more than 200 military personnel to train Mali government forces in the fight against Islamist rebels.

U.S. military support for French military operations in Mali will soon include an airlift — U.S. military planes will fly French personnel and equipment to the area.

A U.S. defense official told NBC News that the military is in the planning stages of an effort to transport the equivalent of about 30 C-17-sized planeloads of French troops and gear from France to Mali.

Most of the U.S. military planes will fly from the continental U.S. over to France for the mission, but least two Marine Corps KC-130 transport planes from a Navy base in Sigonella, Italy, are also likely to be called in to help. The U.S.-based planes are likely to be a mix of C-17s and C-5s, the U.S. defense official said.

The U.S. cargo planes may not land inside Mali, one U.S. official said, explaining that the U.S. is not interested in putting boots on the ground as the French fight Islamist militants in their former colony. The cargo planes would need support on the ground to unload, so the military is working out options, including landing the planes in Niger or Senegal.

The U.S. military is also awaiting orders to help the French military with re-fueling French planes.

Several U.S. military and defense officials have also told NBC News that a Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team remains ready to deploy to Mali to help with embassy security if necessary.

After tripling its number of troops to help stop Islamist fighters advancing on Mali's capital, the French president has pledged to stay in Mali until stability has returned. Meanwhile, A UK transport has arrived and thousands of African troops are on the way. ITV's Rohit Kachroo reports from Mali's capital

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