First Published: 2013-01-15

 

Jihadists flee strongholds as France presses on with Mali campaign

 

Islamists flee three key towns under their control: Timbuktu, where residents have suffered many abuses, as well as Gao, and Douentza in Mali's centre.

 

Middle East Online

By Serge Daniel – BAMAKO

French offensive won’t work without African support

French warplanes hit a town newly-seized by Islamists in Mali as African troops on Tuesday prepared to join the offensive which has sent the jihadists fleeing from their northern strongholds.

France on Monday secured UN backing for its campaign launched four days earlier to halt a southward advance on the capital Bamako by Islamist fighters who have controlled northern Mali since April.

A contingent of 750 French troops has been sent to bolster Malian forces against the well-armed rebels. Defence sources say the force will eventually rise to 2,500.

Since the French air offensive was launched on Friday, the Islamists have fled three key towns under their control: Timbuktu, where residents have suffered some of worst abuses of the past 10 months, as well as Gao, also in the north, and Douentza in Mali's centre.

Though driven from their strongholds by French Rafale fighter jets, the Islamists struck back Monday in the government-held south, capturing the small town of Diabaly some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Bamako.

French planes hit Diabaly overnight, according to a security source who said at least five Islamists were killed and many injured. A resident of a town some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Diabaly said he had seen armed Islamists fleeing after the strikes.

President Francois Hollande, speaking from the French military base in Abu Dhabi, said the night's strikes had "achieved their goal".

France and other UN Security Council countries want to speed up the deployment of a UN-mandated 3,300-strong west African intervention force in Mali, held up by disagreements among its contributors.

West African army chiefs will meet in Bamako later Tuesday to plan the deployment.

Nigeria, which will lead the force, plans to have 600 troops on the ground in Mali "before next week," President Goodluck Jonathan said. Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged troops.

But experts have warned it could take months before the African troops are fully operational.

The 15-nation UN Security Council on Monday expressed its unanimous "understanding and support" for the offensive, France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said.

But the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, of which Mali is a member, called Tuesday for an "immediate ceasefire, dubbing the offensive "premature" and urging all parties to return to the negotiating table.

So far the unrest has caused nearly 150,000 people to flee the country, while another 230,000 are internally displaced, the UN humanitarian agency said Tuesday.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has registered 144,500 refugees in neighbouring countries -- 54,100 in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, 38,800 in Burkina Faso and 1,500 in Algeria, OCHA said.

The hold by Al-Qaeda linked armed Islamists on vast swathes of Mali's northern desert had sparked fear in the international community that the zone could become a breeding ground for terrorists.

While France has made quick gains in eastern Mali, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said the situation is more difficult in the west where the rebels are better armed.

Scores of French armoured tanks from a base in Abidjan arrived in Bamako overnight along with extra troops, a spokesmen for the French forces said.

Belgium has said it will contribute two C-130 transport planes and a medivac helicopter to back up the French offensive, while Britain and Canada have offered troop transporters and the United States has pledged to share intelligence and provide logistical support.

A spokesman for the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) rebel group, Senda Ould Boumama, said their withdrawal from northern cities was a "tactical retreat" to reduce civilian casualties, in comments published on Mauritanian news website Alakhbar.

Meanwhile a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) vowed revenge. "France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France," warned Abou Dardar of the Al-Qaeda-linked group on Monday.

And Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents condemned France's military intervention, warning that it would have "disastrous" consequences.

 

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Hundreds protest in Iran after horrendous acid attacks

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Masdar to build first large-scale wind farm in GCC

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria