I have a long series about trans-Saharan smuggling and terrorism en route but this is one of those times when reality has jumped the gun on me.  The fear is that the Jihadists will carve out a belt of terrorism in the Sahel (Arabic for shore) just to the south of the Sahara desert.  One of the problems preventing the West from cleaning up this mess is that AQIM is holding French hostages.  Well, things are going to get cleaned up one way or the other, but maybe not the way that you think. -Jack

French troops have arrived in Mali amid a rapid escalation of international efforts to intervene in the country, where Islamist groups are continuing to clash with the army for control of the desert north.

The French president, François Hollande, announced on Friday night that French armed forces had come to the aid of Mali troops on the ground. He said the operation would last as long as necessary and the French parliament would sit to debate the move on Monday.

The French foreign office has advised ex-pats to leave Mali because of the security situation.

French media quoted Malian officials as saying European military were present on the ground, namely at Sévaré.

Colonel Abdrahmane Baby, a military operations adviser for the foreign affairs ministry, told Associated Press that French troops were in the country but gave no details about how many or what they were doing.

The announcement confirmed reports from residents in central Mali who said they had seen western military personnel arrive and that planes had landed there throughout the night.

Earlier, Hollande said France was “ready to stop the terrorists’ advance if it continues”. In a speech to the country’s diplomatic corps, he said: “I have decided that France will respond, alongside our African partners, to the request from the Malian authorities. We will do it strictly within the framework of the United Nations security council resolution.