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.

 

Yemen warring parties back to peace talks table

UN warns Eastern Aleppo may soon become besieged

Is Erdogan-Davutoglu tandem coming to an end?

US troops facing growing risks in Iraq, Syria

Cafes, restaurants spring up in Tripoli

Malta likely to become first EU member to open Libya mission

Qaeda threatens to target homes of Yemen security forces

Anti-ISIS coalition pledges additional military commitment

London set to elect its first Muslim Mayor

Fierce fighting rages in Aleppo as diplomacy efforts intensify

Riyadh's $22.5 bn Metro project on track

Egypt court sentences prominent activist to six months in prison

UK to take in more Syria child refugees

France to host Saudi, Qatar, UAE, Turkey FMs for Syria talks

US expects more military resources for anti-ISIS fight

Standoff escalates between Egypt journalists and authorities

Turkey says ready to send ground troops to Syria 'if necessary'

Hamas accuses Fatah of organising military cell in Gaza

Egypt court acquits Mubarak's last PM

Israel to upgrade ties with NATO as Turkey lifts veto

Passengers injured as Etihad flight hits severe turbulence

Israeli tanks fire shots over Gaza border

5th edition of Middle East Homeland Security Summit to be held in Amman in November

Money and revenge push Syrians to jihadist ranks

EU conditionally backs visa-free travel for Turks, overhauls asylum system

Airstrikes resume in Damascus as fighting 'freeze' ends

Relief in Yemen's Mukalla after year of al-Qaeda rule

Saudi oil minister visits Sudan to cement improving ties

Warnings for Assad as Syria talks shift to Berlin

Fierce clashes rage in Syria’s Aleppo

OPCW warns ISIS may be making chemical weapons

French court says 'Carlos the Jackal' must face trial for 1974 attack

UN demands protection of hospitals in armed conflicts

Jewish settler who led burning alive of Palestinian teen receives life sentence

Italy ready to raise shipwreck off Libya coast

Heavy airstrikes kill dozens in ISIS Syria bastion

Deadly intra-rebel clashes rock eastern part of Syria capital

German 'jihadist' goes on trial for Syria war crimes

Number of people held in solitary confinement doubles in Israel

UN fears operation near Mosul will displace 30,000 more Iraqis

Turkey Nobel Laureate shows solidarity with veteran writer, Murat Belge

Russian FM hopes for Aleppo ceasefire in 'next few hours'

Israel Labour mulls break with British party over anti-Semitism claims

Saudi to ensure Binladin Group resolves wage issues

Tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims flock to Baghdad shrine