GAO, Mali (Reuters) – The top Tuareg officer in Mali’s army urged France on Friday to keep its forces in Mali for as long as it takes to drive out Islamist rebels for good.
Colonel El Hadj Ag Gamou, who remained loyal to Mali’s government last year when fellow Tuaregs rebelled, said an early withdrawal by French troops would allow the Islamist forces, linked to al Qaeda, to regain ground lost in a five-week-old French-led offensive.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – By the slow-moving Niger River at Gao, the north Malian town retaken by French troops from Islamist rebels last month, men repair fishing nets beside beached pirogues, women wash pots and children splash naked in the muddy water.
The scene looks tranquil enough but the French soldiers and their allied troops from Niger on the riverbank are alert, fingering their weapons and squinting southwest across the water to the village of Kadji, shrouded by eucalyptus trees.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – Malian troops hunted house-to-house in Gao on Monday for Islamist insurgents whose surprise attack inside the northern town at the weekend posed a risk of France’s forces becoming entangled in a messy guerrilla war in Mali.
Sneaking across the Niger River under cover of darkness, the al Qaeda-allied rebels fought Malian and French troops on Sunday in the sandy streets of the ancient Saharan trading town, retaken from the Islamists two weeks ago.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – Islamist insurgents launched a surprise raid in the heart of the Malian town of Gao on Sunday, battling French and local troops in a blow to efforts to secure Mali’s recaptured north.
Local residents hid in their homes or crouched behind walls as the crackle of gunfire from running street battles resounded through the sandy streets and mud-brick houses of the ancient Niger River town, retaken from Islamist rebels last month by a French-led offensive.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – French and Malian troops fought running gun battles with Islamist rebel guerrillas in the north Mali town of Gao on Sunday, in clashes that showed up big gaps in security in a zone recently recaptured by a French-led military offensive.
Gunfire resounded through the sandy streets and mud-brick houses of the ancient town on the Niger River, hours after French and Malian forces reinforced a checkpoint that had been attacked for the second time in two days by a suicide bomber.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – Malian troops foiled a second suicide bomber attack in the northern town of Gao late on Saturday, highlighting fragile security in zones recaptured by a French-led offensive that is hunting Islamist insurgent bases further north.
French forces rushed reinforcements and armored vehicles on Sunday to the Malian army checkpoint on Gao’s northern outskirts which was the same location attacked by another suicide bomber on a motorcycle on Friday.
BAMAKO/GAO, Mali (Reuters) – French forces hunting Islamist rebels in northern Mali parachuted into a strategic town and took control on Friday, but a suicide bombing further south and the killing of two civilians by soldiers in the capital Bamako raised fresh security fears.
In their hot pursuit of al Qaeda-allied militants in Mali’s remote Saharan northeast, French special forces seized the town and airfield of Tessalit, about 50 km (30 miles) from the Algerian border.
TIMBUKTU (Reuters) – A feared commander of al Qaeda’s North African wing kept several foreign hostages locked in a house in Timbuktu until just before French and Malian troops captured the ancient desert trading town last month, residents said.
Islamist rebels in northern Mali, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are holding at least seven French citizens, a Swede, a Dutchman, and a South African kidnapped in recent years in parts of the Sahara desert.
TIMBUKTU, Mali (Reuters) – Patrolling Timbuktu’s maze of mud-brick houses, the French troops quickly lost their way, their jeeps stuck, wheels spinning, in the sand of the ancient Saharan trading town.
“We don’t know the terrain and sometimes we are working with maps that are out of date,” said the patrol leader, Sergeant Jeremy, who like other French soldiers deployed in Mali was only authorized to give his first name.
TIMBUKTU, Mali (Reuters) – For months, Salaha Najim would discreetly put up a satellite dish banned by the Islamist rebels in dusty Timbuktu, close the shutters of his house and turn on the television to watch soccer with the sound turned down.
On Saturday, the windows were open wide again and the volume was unashamedly loud as Mali’s national team, the Eagles, beat South Africa in a penalty shootout to reach the semifinals of the African Nations Cup.