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U.S. Air Force aiding France's Mali operations

A French soldier relaxes inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III while in route to Mali as France increases their presence in the African nation to fight off extremists that have taken control of much of Northern Mali Jan. 20, 2013. The United States has agreed to support France by airlifiting troops and equipment to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson) (Released)

A French soldier relaxes inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III while in route to Mali as France increases their presence in the African nation to fight off extremists that have taken control of much of Northern Mali Jan. 20, 2013. The United States has agreed to support France by airlifiting troops and equipment to Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman James Richardson)

French soldiers exit a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III after arriving in Mali Jan. 20, 2013, as France increases its presence in the country to fight off  extremists that have taken control of much of the Northern part of the country, Jan. 20, 2013. The United States has agreed to support France by airlifting troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson) (Released)

French soldiers exit a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III after arriving in Mali Jan. 20, 2013, as France increases its presence in the country to fight off extremists that have taken control of much of the Northern part of the country, Jan. 20, 2013. The United States has agreed to support France by airlifting troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman James Richardson)

WESTERN EUROPE - French soldier, Marjorie Moreaux, looks out of a window while in route to Mali in a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III. The United States has agreed to help France airlift troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson/Released)

French soldier, Marjorie Moreaux, looks out of a window while in route to Mali in a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 21 2013. The United States has agreed to help France airlift troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman James Richardson)

ISTRES, France - French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of missions in the Republic of Mali. The United States has agreed to help France airlift troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson/Released)

French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in Istres, France Jan. 21, 2013 in support of missions in the Republic of Mali. The United States has agreed to help France airlift troops and equipment into Mali. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman James Richardson)

ISTRES, France – French troops prepare for take-off inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft in Istres, France, Jan. 21, 2013. France deployed military to the African country of Mali to fight forces who threaten the current Mali government's stability and are relying on assistance from allies in transporting troops and supplies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon/Released)

French troops prepare for take-off inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft in Istres, France, Jan. 21, 2013. France deployed military to the African country of Mali to fight forces who threaten the current Mali government's stability and are relying on assistance from allies in transporting troops and supplies. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

ISTRES, France -- Several French soldiers march to a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III here Jan. 20, 2013. The U.S. Air Force is transporting personnel to Mali in support of France's efforts to remove extremists who have taken control of the northern part of the country.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman James Richardson) (Released)

Several French soldiers load up a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in Istres, France, Jan. 20, 2013. The U.S. Air Force is transporting personnel to Mali in support of France's efforts to remove extremists who have taken control of the northern part of the country. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman James Richardson)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Air Mobility Command contingency response, maintenance and support personnel, and air crews continue to support the movement of French troops and cargo to Mali.

To date Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft have flown 18 missions delivering 574 passengers and 477 short tons of French cargo as part of U.S. Africa Command's effort to support French operations in Mali.

"Our Airmen are working around the clock with the French to prepare their equipment for shipment," said Col. Kevin Oliver, commander of the 818th Contingency Response Group, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., whose forces were among the earliest to arrive in France to set up the airlift stage. "Our Airmen started deployment preparations within an hour of getting the call from our headquarters, and we haven't stopped since."

France requested U.S. and international support for their efforts to halt the advance of Islamist rebels into territory held by Mali's interim government.

"I commend France for taking the steps that it has, and what we have promised them is that we will work with them, to cooperate with them, and to provide whatever assistance we can to try to help them in that effort," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Planners at Headquarters, 18th Air Force and the 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center) at Scott AFB, Ill.; contingency response forces from the 621st Contingency Response Wing at Joint Base MDL, N.J.; and Airmen at Dover AFB, Del., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., worked through the holiday weekend and have not stopped since supporting the international effort, officials said.