01/11/2013 05:19 EST | Updated 03/13/2013 05:12 EDT

African Union head congratulates France for sending troops to Mali

MONTREAL - The head of the African Union expressed gratitude Friday after France's military began an air operation to help Malian troops fight radical Islamists.

Speaking to reporters after a speech in Montreal, Thomas Boni Yayi congratulated the French for helping Mali combat al-Qaida-linked militants.

Boni Yayi says France's move to assist its former colony was a courageous decision.

He says he hopes other nations — as well as NATO — will also come to Mali's aid.

Boni Yayi made an impassioned request Tuesday for NATO to join the battle after meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.

Harper ruled out sending Canadian troops to fight insurgents in Mali.

Mali's president had asked France for help to counter an advance by extremist and terrorist groups who are heading south.

Boni Yayi is also the president of Benin.