The United States fullfill the French capacities gap in the field of intelligence. No French official comments on any assertion related to foreign intel assets. But these assets are at work, according open sources evidences : a Global Hawk HALE UAV has been required since the first week of French ops in Mali -Serval-. This unique unhabited asset would take off from Sicily where few aircrafts are based.
Piloted-ISR assets are also based near this troubled area. The US Navy P-3 fleet could be required : these grey birds are also based in Sicily. Up to five French MPA have already reached western Africa in order to bring some ISR capabilities, and French special operations units also widely contribute.
US PC-12 and U-28 have been operating in western Africa for years, according US press. This kind of flexible aircrafts could have been tasked for French duties since the first month of Serval operations, when the US acknowledged a kind of help in the intelligence gathering process.
Piloted aircrafts fly less longer than UAV, but they need less support. Even US Air Force needs more and more UAV in the Middle East zone, with growing number of CAP and... attrition.
The French troubled UAV story can explain these American growing actions around and above Mali. When France launched its first MALE program -as an interim one- on 2001, the first system had to be delivered to Armée de l'air on July, 2003 (23 months later the award of the contract). And a far more upgraded MALE generation was to reach IOC on 2009.With growing political delays, the contract for this long-awaited MALE has not been awarded yet.