KONNA, Mali/PARIS (Reuters) – French forces fighting Islamist rebels in Mali seized the airport and a bridge at the rebel bastion of Gao on Saturday, the biggest military success so far for an offensive against al Qaeda-allied insurgents occupying the country’s north.
The United States and Europe back the U.N.-mandated Mali operation as a counterstrike against the threat of radical Islamist jihadists using the West African state’s inhospitable Sahara desert as a launching pad for international attacks.
KONNA, Mali (Reuters) – French special forces in Mali with air support on Saturday seized the airport and a key bridge over the Niger River at the Islamist rebel-held stronghold of Gao as France accelerated its ground offensive against al Qaeda-allied fighters.
“The rebels have melted in to the local population. There is harassment. The operation is still under way. It is a bit complicated,” a French officer in Mali, who asked not to be named, told Reuters, referring to the assault on Gao.
SEGOU/BAMAKO, Mali, Jan 25 (Reuters) – French-backed
government forces advanced into northern Mali on Friday towards
the Islamist rebel stronghold of Gao, recapturing the town of
Hombori, as they followed up on relentless French air strikes
against the rebels.
Two weeks after France sent troops and aircraft into its
West African former colony to block an offensive south by al
Qaeda-allied Islamists occupying the north, Mali’s army was now
on the move as Islamist fighters pulled back from towns.
SEGOU, Mali (Reuters) – Government forces advanced into northern Mali on Friday and reached the town of Hombori, some 160 km (100 miles) south of the Islamist rebel stronghold of Gao, after French air strikes drove back the militants, military sources said.
The sources on the ground, who declined to be identified, said the Malian army had moved forward after taking the central town of Douentza on Monday.
DIABALY, Mali (Reuters) – Residents of Diabaly feared for their lives when French air strikes pounded their small town in central Mali, shaking their homes and turning the pick-up trucks of Islamist fighters into burning, twisted metal.
Despite that, they are grateful to France.
Children in bare feet and tattered T-shirts now play among the trucks’ charred wreckage — a visible reminder that the town was the focus of the French-led war against al Qaeda-linked rebels bent on carving an Islamist state out of the Sahara.
MARKALA, Mali/DAKAR, Jan 24 (Reuters) – A split emerged on
Thursday in the alliance of Islamist militant groups occupying
northern Mali as French and African troops prepared a major
ground offensive aimed at driving al Qaeda and its allies from
their safe haven in the Sahara.
A senior negotiator from the Ansar Dine rebels who helped
seize the north from Mali’s government last year said he was now
part of a faction that wanted talks and rejected the group’s
alliance with al Qaeda’s North African franchise AQIM.
MARKALA, Mali (Reuters) – A contingent of 160 soldiers from Burkina Faso has deployed to Markala in central Mali, becoming the first West African troops to link up with French and Malian forces moving against al Qaeda-allied Islamist rebels occupying the north.
A Reuters correspondent in Markala, 237 km (147 miles) from the capital Bamako, saw the Burkinabe soldiers on Thursday near a military base in the dusty town of crumbling colonial era buildings and mud huts on the banks of the Niger River.
SEGOU, Mali (Reuters) – Mali’s army sealed off the central town of Sevare to journalists on Wednesday following allegations by residents and human rights groups that government soldiers had executed Tuaregs and Arabs accused of collaborating with Islamist rebels.
The allegations, which have been denied by the Malian army, threatened to cast a shadow over a French-led operation to drive Islamist fighters allied to al Qaeda from northern Mali.
DIABALY/SEGOU, Mali (Reuters) – The United States and African leaders threw their full diplomatic weight on Wednesday behind a campaign to expel Islamist rebels from Mali, as French air strikes harried the al Qaeda-allied fighters in their strongholds.
For nearly two weeks, French jets and helicopters have been hitting carefully selected targets around rebel-held Malian towns such as Gao and Timbuktu, while African troops gather for a planned ground offensive against the Islamist forces.
NIAMEY/BAMAKO (Reuters) – Chadian forces advanced towards the Mali border on Tuesday as an African troop deployment and a U.S. military airlift swelled international support for French operations against Islamist rebels occupying the north of Mali.
The aim of the intervention is to prevent northern Mali from becoming a launchpad for international attacks by al Qaeda and its local allies in North and West Africa. Fears of this increased sharply after a hostage-taking raid by Islamist militants last week on a gas plant in Algeria.