Mali's request for armed assistance from France during its ongoing battle against al-Qaeda and Islamist militants reflects the limited capabilities of the African nation's own armed forces.

Flightglobal's MiliCAS and Ascend Online Fleets databases record the Mali air force as having an active inventory of only 27 aircraft, including nine aged Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 fighters and four Mil Mi-24 assault helicopters. It is unclear how much these have been able to contribute to efforts to repel the advance of opposition groups.

Other types used by the service, often as single examples, include Antonov An-26, Basler BT-67 and Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander fixed-wing transports, Eurocopter AS350, Harbin Z-9 and Mi-8 helicopters and Aero Vodochody L-29 trainers, according to our data.

Launched on 11 January, France's involvement in combating militants in the north of Mali has included using Aerospatiale Gazelle combat helicopters, plus Dassault Mirage 2000D and Rafale strike aircraft and Mirage F1 reconnaissance assets. The fixed-wing aircraft are performing long-range strike missions after flying from N'Djamena air base in Chad.

Early activities included striking rebel forces near the towns of Gao and Konna, but media outlets on 14 January quoted French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as saying that militants had seized Diabaly, located 216nm (400km) east of the capital Bamako.

For a full listing of the Mali air force's combat strength, download our free World Air Forces directory for 2013.

Source: Flight International