Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno on Wednesday urged the Malian army and West African force to speed up the deployment of troops to northern Mali to help fight Al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

“The time is no longer for speeches… but for action,” Deby said at the opening of a summit of heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast.

“The enemy doesn’t wait,” said Deby, whose country has sent the largest African contingent of troops to Mali — “more than 2,000”.

“We’re calling on ECOWAS staff for more haste in speeding up the deployment of troops to the liberated zone,” he said.

Chad is at the frontline with French troops in Mali’s Ifoghas mountains, to where the Islamists fled after being forced out of the major northern cities following France’s intervention in January.

west african leaders at the meeting in Yamoussoukro

west african leaders at the meeting in Yamoussoukro

Overwhelmed by the superior fire-power of the French air force and special forces, Islamist hardliners pulled out of the towns they had ruthlessly ruled for nine months, imposing an extreme form of sharia law.

They regrouped and reverted to guerrilla tactics, launching hit-and-run attacks against French or pro-government forces and resorting to suicide attacks.

ECOWAS has pledged to deploy a force of up to 8,000 troops through its African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), to which Chad does not belong.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, the acting head of ECOWAS, has said that three quarters of the troops were already in Mali but called for funds towards a full deployment.

Jonathan and Quattara at Yamoussoukro

Jonathan and Quattara at Yamoussoukro

Last month, the international community promised to provide an overall sum of more than $455 million dollars (338 million euros) for AFISMA, the Malian army and humanitarian aid.

But on Monday, Ivory Coast said West African nations in fact need twice the amount of the pledge, or $950 million.