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.

 

11 Egypt policemen killed in Sinai bomb blast

US army back in Somalia

Paris, Riyadh 'finalising' $3bn Lebanon arms deal

Sudan orders Iran to close cultural centres

Saudi religious police at heart of new scandal

IS accused of 'systematic ethnic cleansing' in Iraq

UK announces tougher measures against Britons planning jihad

Algeria hosts new round of Mali peace talks

US launches new round of air strikes around Iraq dam

Turkey summons US charge d'affaires over Snowden claims

Turkey new PM promises peace with Kurds

Will UN Human Rights Council investigate IS abuses?

Iran convicts Ahmadinejad's vice president for embezzlement

Fierce clashes shatter uneasy calm near armistice line in Golan Heights

Turkey detains dozens of police in new nationwide raids

Libya loses control of Tripoli to Islamist-led militias

Thousands of Huthis defy UN in new show of strength

Iraq presses fightback against jihadist-led militants

Wounded Gazans need long-term care

Britain to go tougher on jihadist suspects

Libyan Islamist militiamen control US embassy compound

Israel shoots down drone over occupied Golan Heights

Yemen army suffers heavy losses in new wave of Qaeda attacks

Turkish army breaks silence on Kurdish peace talks

Islamic State offers grim inspiration to African extremists

Shebab target intelligence HQ in Somalia

Israel expropriates 988 acres of Palestinian land in West Bank

Iraq recaptures Amerli from Islamic State in biggest success so far

Saudi King calls for ‘strong and rapid action’ against jihadists

Jihadists distribute Yazidi women as spoils of war to fighters

Gulf countries resolve six-month dispute with Qatar

Egypt reduces Badie death sentence to life in prison

AU forces liberate former Shebab stronghold in Somalia

Philippines enters war in Syria!

Kurds put aside old rivalries to battle jihadists in Iraq

Iran says new sanctions cast doubt on US sincerity

US imposes new sanctions on Iran

US supplies arms to Lebanon to fight jihadists

Britain terror threat level raised to ‘severe’

Libya conflict takes its toll on migrants

UN chief lashes out at 'brutal' IS killings in Iraq

Over three million Syrian refugees have fled war

Libya's troubled interim government steps down

Obama admits 'no strategy yet' to fight IS

Israel counts losses and gains in Gaza: Heavy cost for 50 days of war