French warplanes began pounding the northern half of the West African state Mali on Friday of last week.
More than 100 people have been killed as Mali’s former colonial master tries to shore up the weak regime.
The French government says it has sent more than 500 troops into the country to combat an “Islamic rebellion”. The country is 90 percent Muslim.
Islamist forces, which have held the north of the country since March last year, were sweeping south.
Rebel groups had taken over following a military coup in the capital Bamako. Initially Tuareg separatists dominated the new government, but these were pushed aside by Islamic militias.
Contrary to Western propaganda, the north is not controlled by a unified Al Qaida force, but three Islamic militias with differing agendas.
French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “Bamako would have fallen two or three days later. France is at war against terrorism.”
In the past French governments have been happy to prop up dictators across the region, like Félix Houphouët-Boigny in the Ivory Coast.
It carried out a brutal colonial war to stop Algeria getting independence.
The French government supported Tunisian dictator Ben Ali until he was toppled by a popular revolution two years ago this week.
As the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have found out, Western imperialism never comes to bring democracy but to defend its own crude interests.
French president Francois Hollande hopes to entrench French interests in West Africa and improve popularity at home.
But he risks dragging France into a drawn out conflict. One French helicopter has been shot down already.
Two British transport planes are set to fly to Mali to reinforce government troops. Britain may also supply drones and spy planes.
Some British military personnel are already in Mali, and the government says troops are likely to follow in a training role later this month.
The French say that they may use their old imperial Foreign Legion army if ground fighting intensifies. But they are still hoping that an alliance of forces including African troops will be sufficient.
The intervention may have stopped the advance and led the rebels to abandon the main northern cities, but they are regrouping in the desert. They are well trained and well armed.
French forces have carried out scores of air raids across towns and cities in the north, including Timbuktu. France threatened an intervention in September, and European troops were due to train Malian forces.
France has frequently used military force in its former colonies. It still maintains military bases, including in Chad, from where its current assault is being launched.
At the same time the French military has carried out a disastrous raid on Somalia intended to free a French agent.