First Published: 2013-01-13

 

France masses troops in Mali, kills top Islamist leader

 

French Mirage fighter jets pound Mali for third straight day; top Islamist leader was reported killed; African troops head to West African country.

 

Middle East Online

By Serge Daniel – BAMAKO

Intensifying military intervention

French Mirage fighter jets on Sunday pounded Mali for a third straight day and a top Islamist leader was reported killed as African troops headed to the west African country.

"There were (air strikes) last night, there are now and there will be today and tomorrow," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in televised remarks.

"Our intervention is ongoing and we will continue in order to make them (Islamist fighters) retreat and allow Malian and African forces to go forward and re-establish the territorial integrity of the country," Le Drian said.

The first troops promised by African nations were expected in Mali on Sunday to join the campaign.

Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal on Saturday each pledged 500 troops for an African-led intervention force.

Also Sunday a security source said a lieutenant of Ansar Dine chief Iyad Ag Ghaly was killed in fighting to recapture the central town of Konna from the rebels.

"The Islamist fighters suffered a real setback with the death of Abdel 'Kojak' Krim," the source said.

On Saturday French troops arrived in the capital Bamako, flying in from bases in Ivory Coast and Chad, a Malian officer said. He refused to give details of their numbers or their mission.

Colonel Paul Geze, the French mission's commander, told Mali's ORTM television he hoped their mission would succeed "as quickly as possible, in the best conditions possible".

ORTM said the French contingent would be at full strength by Monday. It has been deployed in the capital to protect the 6,000-strong expatriate community.

Both France and Mali on Saturday hailed the success of their joint operation to push back an advance by the Islamists who control the north of the country.

Since taking power in the north last year, the Islamists have destroyed centuries-old Muslim mausoleums they see as heretical and imposed an extreme form of Islamic law including floggings, amputations and sometimes executions.

"Our foes have suffered heavy losses," French President Francois Hollande said, stressing that the French intervention had "only one goal, which is the fight against terrorism".

A statement late Saturday from Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore said 11 of their soldiers had died and some 60 had been wounded in the fighting.

"They fell on the field of honour at Konna," it said.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French Mirage fighters had carried out a second day of air strikes Saturday to stop columns of Islamist fighters from driving south.

A French pilot carrying out air raids had been killed, he added. But the Islamists reportedly suffered heavy losses.

A Malian officer in the central town of Mopti, near the front line, said dozens, possibly as many as a hundred Islamists had been killed in Konna. Residents there described the bodies of men wearing Arab clothing and turbans.

Malian troops recaptured Konna Friday, just a day after it had fallen to the insurgents who had been threatening to continue their advance southward.

Human Rights Watch, citing reports from residents, said at least 10 civilians including three children had died in Konna. Children forced by the Islamists to fight in their ranks had been wounded and possibly killed in the fighting, said HRW's Corinne Dufka.

The Islamists had conscripted the child soldiers in Mali's northeast region of Gao and captured others from neighbouring Niger, she added, calling for their immediate release.

As Western nations praised the French initiative, Britain offered technical support, though no troops on the ground.

Meanwhile French President Hollande said he had ordered tighter security at home following the intervention in Mali, a former French colony.

France "has to take all necessary precautions" in the face of a terrorist threat including increased surveillance of public buildings and transport, he said.

The Islamists seized northern Mali, a territory the size of France, in the wake of last year's March 22 coup which ousted democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure.

There were fears the north could become a haven for extremist groups. Some observers feared their recent advance south threatened the whole country.

 

UN Security Council warns against holding Iraqi Kurd vote

Barzani delays Kurdish independence vote announcement

Iran defies US, tests missile

Yemen leader promises UN to open entire country to aid

Saudi Arabia marks national day with fireworks, concerts

Turkey warns of 'security' steps in response to Iraqi Kurd vote

Syria's war off the radar at UN assembly

For many Iraqis, tradition trumps police

Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

Saudi cleric banned for saying women have ‘quarter’ brain

Veteran Syrian activist, daughter assassinated in Istanbul

Tunisia drops forced anal exams for homosexuality

Bomb used in Saudi-led strike on Yemen children US-made

Syria Kurds vote to cement federal push

Police charge teenager over London Underground attack

Nigerian official to meet Turkish counterpart over illegal guns

Thousands feared trapped in Raqa as IS mounts last stand

Iraqi forces achieve first step in new offensive on IS

Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Black Sea coast leaving four dead, 20 missing

Trump praises 'friend' Erdogan

Rouhani vows Iran will boost missiles despite US criticism

Russia clashes with EU over Syria

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company