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Germany offers planes to fly West African troops to Mali

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will supply two Transall military transport planes to fly West African troops to Mali's capital Bamako, where they are due to join French and Malian forces fighting Islamist rebels, the German government said on Wednesday.

This could take place "without delay", once some technical details had been clarified, Berlin added.

Paris has poured hundreds of soldiers into Mali and carried out dozens of bombing raids since Friday in the Islamist-controlled northern half of the country, which Western and regional states fear could become a base for terrorist attacks in Africa and Europe.

Germany has ruled out sending combat troops but said on Monday it would provide logistical support.

"The support is aimed for the ECOWAS states. We are prepared to bring ECOWAS troops to Mali, to Bamako," Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, referring to the West African regional bloc.

Thousands of African soldiers from ECOWAS are due to take over the Mali offensive, under a U.N.-mandated deployment.

Regional armies are scrambling to accelerate an operation which was initially not expected until September and has been brought forward by France's surprise bombing campaign aimed at stopping a rebel advance on a strategic town last week.

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of ECOWAS, was in Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German officials including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

(Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Stephen Brown)

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