Mali's army chief claimed today that his French-backed forces could retake the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu from Islamists in a month.
General Ibrahima Dembele said that the army was forging ahead for "the total liberation of northern Mali.
"If the support remains consistent, it won't take more than a month to free Gao and Timbuktu," he said.
Gen Dembele said troops from Niger and Chad were expected to come through Niger, which borders Mali on the east, and head to Gao, a key Islamist stronghold which has been pounded by French airstrikes.
Responding to claims by Human Rights Watch that his troops were committing atrocities including murder, the army chief said that soldiers found guilty of abuses would be summarily punished.
"Any soldier committing atrocities against the civil population will be immediately withdrawn and taken to Bamako to be judged in a military tribunal," he said.
Meanwhile, Malian forces patrolled retaken Diabaly and the strategic crossroads town of Douentza, seized by the Islamists in September.
Elsewhere, the US started transporting French soldiers and equipment as part of its logistical aid pledge to France.
"We have started airlifting French army personnel and equipment to Bamako from Istres," said US Africa Command spokesman Benjamin Benson.
"We are going to continue the operations for the next couple of days as required to meet the needs of the French to get the material delivered."
French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said that Britain, Belgium, Canada and Denmark were already transporting French material.
Benson said the US was also working on intelligence issues, but declined to say if surveillance drones were being used.
The Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates are also providing transport planes or helicopters.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius initially portrayed the campaign as limited to halting the rebel advance, primarily involving the use of airpower and likely to be limited to a matter of weeks.
It has since emerged France's intervention could involve up to 4,000 troops and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has redefined the mission as seeking to achieve "the total reconquest of Mali."
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.
Foreign Minister Alistair Burt's admission that the Cameron government has "supported" a survey of attitudes to US drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas amounts to a tacit admission of British involvement.
As Britain faces a new housing crisis we can learn from an occasion when tenants banded together to beat their landlord - and won new council housing
Iain Duncan Smith's brainchild came into force at the end of last month. It's bad news for almost everyone