Hollande, Merkel, Obama and Rasmussen expand their north African dirty war into Mali
France is planning to send drones into Mali as part of an international intervention to free the west African country from al-Qaida-backed insurgents who control large swaths of its territory, according to reports.

A French defence official said the country was moving surveillance drones to the region as part of secretive plans with the US, amid increasing fears that, if left unchecked, the crisis could serve as a launchpad for terrorist attacks on its own soil.

Speaking to the Associated Press, the official said on Monday that France was discussing plans with the US for drones, intelligence-gathering and security in Africa's Sahel region. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that Germany would be prepared to train Malian security forces and would consider providing "material and logistical support".

"Free democratic states cannot accept international terrorism gaining a safe refuge in the north of the country," Merkel said at a German military conference near Berlin. A diplomatic source told the Guardian that the international consensus on the need for a concerted action in Mali was unprecedented.

"I've never seen anything like this level of international co-operation : the United States, the EU - both collectively and its individual states - the UN security council, all are in 100% agreement about what we should do here," said the source, speaking in Mali's capital, Bamako, on condition of anonymity.

"It is no secret that there is military planning going on. The EU is conducting a scoping mission and looking to send a training team to help train the Malian army. But the French are the nation with the most experience working here, and they see the terrorism threat more acutely than others."

News of the possible scale of the western intervention comes after the UN security council passed a resolution earlier this month giving the Malian government and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 45 days to formulate a plan for military action. An ECOWAS source told the Guardian that the governments of Niger, Burkina Faso and Togo had all agreed to contribute to a force to reclaim the north of the country from rebels backed by al-Qaida insurgents who seized power following a coup in March.

On Friday a meeting of African and international officials in Bamako saw increasingly belligerent rhetoric, as foreign powers agreed on the urgency of military action in the country.

"The Malian people rely on us to take determined and efficient action, and we must be up to their hopes and expectations," UN deputy secretary general, Jan Elias Eliasson, said.

"From the Mali government's perspective, the meeting was a big success," a senior security source in the Mali government said. "The international community came to Mali to discuss our solution with us, and agreed that Mali will be the lead."

But humanitarian groups expressed concern that plans for military action should consider the wellbeing of the most vulnerable groups.

"Mali is a country whose people are dealing with immense challenges from dire poverty, a food and nutrition crisis, and the political and security crises. We have seen hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, especially women and children," said Chance Briggs, national director in Mali of the charity World Vision. "It would be intolerable to see further pain and suffering heaped on children and their families in Mali. They have enough to deal with in the past few months."