News / Africa

French-Backed Malian Forces Secure Former Rebel Stronghold

French and Malian Troops Consolidate Gains against Militantsi
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February 01, 2013 5:26 PM
French and Malian troops are consolidating their gains after driving Islamic militants from key population centers in the northern part of the country. And the U.S. has reached a military agreement with the neighboring country of Niger that could lead to a base for drones to gather intelligence on al-Qaida-linked groups in western Africa. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

French and Malian Troops Consolidate Gains against Militants

VOA News
French-backed Malian forces are securing the town of Kidal, the last major stronghold of Islamist militants in the country's north.

Foreign Troop Commitments to Mali

  • France 2,000 on the ground, 500 more committed
  • Chad to send 2,000
  • Nigeria to send 1,200
  • Benin to send 650
  • Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Togo have committed 500 each
  • Guinea and Ghana are also sending troops
  •  
Military officials say Friday that Islamist rebels have left the town near the Algerian border and are believed to be hiding in the surrounding mountains and desert.

An official with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says the first phase of the international operation in Mali is about to end. Political director Abdel-Fatau Musah said regional forces with AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali) are being deployed to liberated regions in the country's north.

“AFISMA is already preparing a contingency plan for that to occupy and secure the liberated zones. And to also take active measures to make sure that those forces that are on the run are neutralized, so that they don’t constitute a permanent threat in the desert,” said Musah.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande is preparing for a Saturday visit to Mali, three weeks after French forces launched their intervention against Islamist militants in the former French colony.

A statement from the president's office says he will be accompanied by the defense and development ministers.

Franch Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks after a press conference, in Paris, January 12, 2013.Franch Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks after a press conference, in Paris, January 12, 2013.
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Franch Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks after a press conference, in Paris, January 12, 2013.
Franch Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks after a press conference, in Paris, January 12, 2013.
On Thursday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian declared the intervention in Mali a success, but added that Mali's situation is not yet secure. The minister said in an interview on French radio that the Malians must establish "a reconciliation process" to ensure a stable future.

Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, has said he will not hold talks with Islamists who controlled the north before French and Malian forces drove them out.

Mali's President Dioncounda Traore, center, visits the troops on the military side of Bamako's airport, January 16, 2013.Mali's President Dioncounda Traore, center, visits the troops on the military side of Bamako's airport, January 16, 2013.
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Mali's President Dioncounda Traore, center, visits the troops on the military side of Bamako's airport, January 16, 2013.
Mali's President Dioncounda Traore, center, visits the troops on the military side of Bamako's airport, January 16, 2013.
But Traore told French radio Thursday he would consider meeting with the Tuareg rebel group MNLA if it drops its claim to Malian territory.

The MNLA has been fighting for a Tuareg homeland. It seized part of northern Mali last year and later joined forces with Islamic militants when the Malian government collapsed.

The Tuaregs later split with the militants when they imposed conservative Islamic law in the north, and the MNLA now says it backs the French military operation in Mali.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Related slide show
 

  • French soldiers patrol outside Djinguereber mosque after Friday prayers in the center of Timbuktu February 1, 2013.
  • People hold Malian and French flags during the reopening ceremony of Mahamane Fondogoumo elementary school in the town center of Timbuktu, February 1, 2013. 
  • Children celebrate holding a French flag during the reopening ceremony of Mahamane Fondogoumo elementary school in the town center of Timbuktu February 1, 2013.
  • Islamist rebel prisoners guarded by Malian gendarmes are seen at a military camp in the center of Timbuktu February 1, 2013.
  • Malian gendarmes show weapons used by Islamist rebels at a military camp in the center of Timbuktu February 1, 2013.
  • During an official visit organized by the French military, residents and journalists gather around a French Sagay tank positioned overlooking the bridge crossing the river Niger at the entrance of Gao, Mali, January 31, 2013.
  • During an official visit organized by the French military, French troops are positioned overlooking the bridge crossing the river Niger at the entrance of Gao, Mali, January 31, 2013.
  • Three Malian girls walk in the streets of Gao, Mali, January 31, 2013.
  • Chadian soldiers patrol the streets of Gao, Mali, January 29, 2013.
  • This photo released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office shows a crowd cheering the arrival of French soldiers in Timbuktu, Mali, January 28, 2013.


 

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