BAMAKO/SEVARE, Mali (Reuters) – French and Malian troops were on Sunday restoring government control over the fabled Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, the latest gain in a fast-moving French-led offensive against al Qaeda-allied fighters occupying northern Mali.
The Islamist militant rebels have pulled back northwards to avoid relentless French air strikes that have destroyed their bases, vehicles and weapons, allowing French and Malian troops to advance rapidly with air support and armoured vehicles.
KONNA, Mali/PARIS (Reuters) – French and Malian forces fighting Islamist rebels took control on Saturday of the rebel bastion of Gao, the biggest military success so far in 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 Islamist jihadists using the West African state’s inhospitable Sahara desert as a launching pad for international attacks.
SEVARE, Mali (Reuters) – Refugees crowded excitedly around crackling radios at a camp in the central Mali town of Sevare on Saturday evening as French and Malian forces seized the Islamist rebel bastion of Gao.
“I want very badly to go back home,” said 19-year-old Amadou Maiga, who left Gao three months ago after rebels controlling it burned his school – declaring it a violation of Islam – and recruited his classmates as cooks and child soldiers.
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.