Niger says it is contributing 650 troops, and Chad has promised to send 2,000.
The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a secular rebel group composed of ethnic Tuareg tribesmen whose original rebellion last year against Malis government led to the Islamist takeover of northern Mali, claimed in a statement on its website that it had captured Kidal, the third Islamist stronghold in northern Mali.
Until the French finally enter Timbuktu, the full extent of damage done by the Islamists to Timbuktus historical possessions will remain hazy.
The Islamists could have destroyed centuries of work, painstakingly collected over the course of recent decades, in particular by one man, Abdul Kader, who headed the institute from 1984 until 2002. In the 1980s, Kader bought the manuscripts from residents for as much as $300 a manuscript. When he expanded the search outside Timbuktu, Kader sometimes had to compensate villagers with livestock instead of cash. Some single villages held as many as 2,000 of the ancient documents, according to the institutes website.
A portion of the institutes scrolls have been digitized, but most were not. A new Ahmed Baba Institute was opened in 2009 to include facilities for researchers.
By then, a wave of kidnappings by al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb had begun. AQIM collected hefty ransoms for its Western hostages, and foreign traffic to Timbuktu slowed to a trickle.
McClatchy special correspondent Brahima Ouologuem contributed from Bamako, Mali.
Video: French Troops in Mali Take Timbuktu Airport