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.

 

Iran back to high enrichment 'in 5 days' if US quits nuclear deal

UN urges Iraq to do more for IS sex abuse victims

Taliban warns Afghanistan will become 'graveyard' for US

Two North Korean shipments to Syrian chemical weapons program intercepted

Algerian ‘bikini rebellion’ may be hype but harassment isn’t

Lebanon army says in final stage of IS border battle

Spanish town Ripoll reels from discovery of it’s young jihadists

Jordan opens first job centre in Syrian refugee camp

Outrage in Morocco over sexual assault video

Former Libyan premiere Ali Zeidan still held by kidnappers

Syria opposition talks in Riyadh end with no breakthrough

Erdogan vows to prevent Kurdish ‘terror corridor’ in Syria

Iraqi troops recapture first two districts from IS bastion

UN says thousands fleeing Tel Afar amid anti-IS offensive

Second round of Kurdish referendum talks could happen next week

Dozens killed in coalition strikes as US-backed forces advance in Raqa

German foreign minister says Erdogan backers threatened his wife

Turkey arrests former national goalkeeper for ‘coup links’

Iran in negotiations to unblock Twitter

Yemeni FM says Iran 'part of the problem' in Yemen

On the trail of Spain's attackers

Mattis in Baghdad to support Iraqi forces

Erdogan critic stunned Turkey's 'long arm' reached Spain

Spanish police shoot dead man who could be Barcelona attacker

Iraqi forces close in on last IS bastion in country’s north

Kuwait arrests 13 fugitives in Iran-linked terror case

Qatar blocks planes from transporting pilgrims

Erdogan says joint op with Iran against Kurds ‘on the agenda’

Barcelona attack fugitive ‘dangerous, possibly armed’ warn police

Lebanese president ratifies public sector wage rise, tax hike

Young Syrian refugees want end of war and ISIS

Lebanon army advances against IS in border battle

Spanish police say driver of Barcelona rampage van identified

Toxic politics in Italy, Libya further complicate migration problem

Russia destroys large column of IS fighters in Syria

Assad says no Syria ties for countries backing rebels

In African tour, Sisi seeks to rebuild ties, address security and water concerns

In Egypt, Syrian refugees recreate Syria

Iraqi Kurds may postpone referendum in return for concessions

Dubai real estate market sets the pace for renewed growth in the GCC

German-Turkish intellectual held at Ankara’s request

Jordan’s municipal elections marred by deaths, riots

Rouhani says top priority is protecting nuclear deal from US

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call