First Published: 2013-01-21

 

Paris aims high: Total re-conquest of Mali’s north

 

French advance towards jihadist strongholds comes amid reports that Qaeda linked militants were abandoning some of their positions.

 

Middle East Online

‘We will not leave any pockets of resistance’

BAMAKO - French troops on Sunday consolidated gains in Mali's Islamist-held north as Paris said the aim was its "total reconquest" and Russia, Canada and Germany offered vital aid for the offensive.

The French advance towards the jihadist strongholds came amid reports that the Al-Qaeda linked militants were abandoning some of their positions and converging on the mountainous region of Kidal, their northernmost bastion, 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) from Bamako and near the border with Algeria.

Kidal was the first town seized by an amalgam of Islamist militants and Tuareg separatist groups in March last year. The two sides then had a falling out and the Islamists have since gained the upper hand in the vast desert north.

"The goal is the total reconquest of Mali. We will not leave any pockets" of resistance, French Defence Minister Le Drian said on France 5 television.

Le Drian said seven French citizens taken hostage by Islamist militants in Niger and Mali in recent years were alive, adding there had been "contacts with the hostage-takers".

There had been fears over their fate since the start of the French military intervention in Mali, which sparked a brazen hostage attack in neighbouring Algeria that rocked the world.

The 72-hour stand-off ended in scores of deaths.

Fifty Senegalese soldiers arrived in the Mali capital Bamako, taking the number of African troops there to 150. The planned force will comprise 5,800 soldiers, but deployment has been slow, hampered by cash and logistical constraints.

And a radical Islamist group Ansaru on Sunday claimed responsibility for an attack in central Nigeria that killed two soldiers who were due to be deployed to Mali, injuring five others.

The regional powerhouse last week boosted its troop commitment for Mali to 1,200 soldiers from 900 planned earlier.

In a statement in poor English, Ansaru said: "We have successfully execute our first attempt in (crippling) the Nigerian army troops (whose aim was) to demolish the Islamic empire of Mali."

French troops on the ground meanwhile said they were buttressing their positions.

"The deployment towards the north... which began 24 hours ago, is on course with troops inside the towns of Niono and Sevare," Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Dosseur told reporters, referring to key frontline outposts.

Niono is about 350 kilometres northeast of the Malian capital and 60 kilometres south of Diabaly, which was seized nearly a week ago by Islamists and then heavily bombed by French planes.

Sevare has a strategically important airport which could help serve as a base for operations further north. It is about 630 kilometres northeast of Bamako.

The town is also near Konna, whose seizure by Islamists on January 10 sparked the French military intervention in the former colony against the forces occupying northern Mali for about nine months.

"We are in a phase of pushing forward," said a French lieutenant-colonel in charge of operations in Niono and the town of Diabaly, whose fate remains unclear.

Defence Minister Le Drian however said that "everything points to a favourable evolution of the situation in Diabaly in the coming hours."

The region where the towns are located is known for housing the most martial and fanatical Islamists.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Russia had offered to help transport troops and supplies to Mali and Canada had extended help to bring African troops to the country.

Asked how African troops would be transported, Fabius said "there is transportation that will be partly by the Africans themselves, partly by the Europeans and partly by the Canadians."

"And the Russians have proposed to provide means of transport for the French, so it's fairly diverse," he said.

The announcement came a day after an emergency west African summit of the ECOWAS regional bloc called on the United Nations "to immediately provide financial and logistical backing for the deployment of MISMA", the African force.

Germany Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle responded to the appeal, saying "the African troops need financial aid" and pledging to do its bit without setting an amount.

 

Assad, Russia press intense Aleppo assault

Saudi king unveils austerity drive

Clinton, Trump clash in fiery first presidential debate

Morocco finally adopts Amazigh as official language

Saudi petition seeks 'full' rights for women

Russia tries to strongarm US with Aleppo assault

Jordan vows crackdown on online incitement

Iran's Ahmadinejad says will not run for president

Boris Johnson dismisses Erdogan goat poem as 'trivia'

Turkey dismisses 87 spy agency staff over failed coup

Egypt recovers sunken boat, more bodies

Israel's Peres 'fighting for his life'

Bombings kill at least seventeen in Baghdad

Netanyahu chooses diplomacy in US election

Iran sets conditions for joining terror finance taskforce

Who is the destroyer of Timbuktu shrines?

Assad, Russia opt for 'total war' in Syria

Israel to charge Lieberman party officials in graft probe

Egypt detains owner of capsized migrant vessel

Countless bombings in Baghdad’s Karrada since 2003 US-led invasion

Moroccan gets death threat messages over cartoon posted by killed Jordanian

Israel prosecutor general denies going easy on PM

Iran frees Iranian-Canadian academic

Supplies dwindle, strikes intensify in Syria's Aleppo

Rebels, civilians quit Homs under deal with regime

Oman court closes national newspaper, jails three journalists

Israel-US consortium signs $10 billion gas deal with Jordan

Closure of Palestinian pages sparks Facebook censorship fears

Morocco’s main secular party takes on ruling Islamists

British FM on key visit to Turkey

Ten Turkish soldiers killed in PKK attacks

Jordanians protest over writer's murder

Moniz says Washington has met its side of Iran nuclear deal

Coalition prefers final Yemen settlement to 'short' truce

Deutsche Welle sues Turkey over confiscated interview

Palestinians condemn Trump vow on Jerusalem

Iran conservatives advise Ahmadinejad to stay out of election

Moscow slams 'unacceptable' UN statements on Syria

Yemeni forces kill suspected Qaeda chief

Bulgaria court error delays trial over Hezbollah bombing

Oil prices rise modestly ahead of OPEC meeting

Qatari official banned from AFC vote

Trump says he'll recognize Jerusalem as Israel's 'undivided' capital

US, Russia split on Syria’s Aleppo carnage

Death toll from Egypt migrant shipwreck jumps to 168