Sunday, January 27, 2013

French-Backed Malian Forces Retake Gao, Advance on Timbuktu

Malian soldiers ride in a Malian army pickup truck in Diabaly January 26, 2013. (photo by Joe Penney)
French and Malian forces are advancing against Islamist militants in northern Mali heading toward Timbuktu after more than two weeks of fighting.  

Overnight, French air strikes destroyed the home of an al Qaida linked militant leader in the town of Kidal some 1,500 from the capital, Bamako.

The assault came  a day after French and Malian forces recaptured the strategic city of Gao.

The French Defense Ministry said Saturday that a contingent of troops from Nigeria and Chad was moving into the city to help maintain stability. The ministry also said the city's mayor, who had sought refuge in the capital, Bamako, was returning.

VOA correspondent Idrissa Fall in Mali says the military intervention in Gao is significant because the city had become a haven for rebel groups.

"Gao is the most important city in northern Mali. Gao was a kind of capital for the Movement for the Unity of God and Jihad in West Africa and also a capital for Ansar Dine. It was the former capital of the MNLA, those rebel Tuaregs who proclaimed independence."

Earlier Saturday, French and Malian forces regained control of Gao's airport and a nearby bridge. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the forces used an air and ground operation to cut off the logistic and transportation capabilities of the militants.

map by Evan Centanni (
The U.S. Defense Department announced late Saturday it is expanding its aid to the French mission in Mali.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Le Drian in a phone conversation that the Pentagon is prepared to conduct aerial refueling missions.  The two defense officials also discussed plans for the U.S. to transport troops from other African nations into Mali.  The U.S. has not planned to send its own troops to Mali.

The conflict in Mali and how to end it is the main topic of discussion at the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Sunday. The AU has asked leaders of the 54-member bloc of nations to consider committing troops to the mission in Mali.

France began a military offensive in Mali earlier this month, after rebels who seized control of much of the country's north last year began pushing toward the capital, Bamako. The rebels have been imposing a strict form of Islamic law on civilians.

As military operations continue in Mali, defense chiefs from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS were holding an emergency meeting in the Ivory Coast to discuss Mali's unrest. ECOWAS has been discussing plans to send roughly 3,000 troops to Mali as part of a U.N.-backed mission. 
from VOA News
Enhanced by Zemanta


Post a Comment

Search this blog