News / Africa

French Troops Enter Last Mali Rebel Stronghold

French special forces drive through the city of Gao, Northern Mali, Jan. 30, 2013.
French special forces drive through the city of Gao, Northern Mali, Jan. 30, 2013.
Anne Look
French forces have entered Kidal, the last major stronghold of Islamist militants who seized control of northern Mali last year.

French troops say they have taken control of the airport in the far northern town of Kidal --  the third, and last, major northern town to be retaken during this nearly three-week, French-backed intervention against al-Qaida linked Islamist rebels.
 
MAP: Click to expand.MAP: Click to expand.
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MAP: Click to expand.
MAP: Click to expand.
The militants seized control of northern Mali in April on the heels of a military coup in the south that further weakened the Malian army.
 
France began aerial bombardments and then ground operations in Mali to help counter a surprise offensive southward by Islamist rebels on January 10.
 
Incommunicado

Cell phone communications are cut to Kidal. The president of Kidal's regional assembly, Haminy Belco Maiga, is in touch with the town via satellite phone.

He says the French arrived Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. aboard four planes and some helicopters.  He says vehicles on the ground used their headlights to indicate the runway.  He says there was no fighting and it appears everything was organized in advance which would indicate a prior agreement made with the MNLA.
 
The MNLA is the secular Tuareg separatist group that claimed Monday to have taken control of Kidal from the Malian-led Islamist group, Ansar Dine, which had previously held the town.
 
Maiga said the MNLA remains on the "periphery of the town" and Ansar Dine appears to have fled to surrounding villages and towns further north.
 
Solo entrance

French troops arrived in Kidal without their Malian counterparts.  That's a notable departure from how they have been liberating other key towns and a source of concern for northern leaders in Bamako, like Maiga.  
 
Maiga says he does not consider the town liberated until Malian soldiers enter Kidal.  He says there is concern that the French are negotiating with fighters, like the MNLA, something that should be reserved for Malian authorities.

Malian troops try to dissuade the crowd from looting shops in Timbuktu, Jan. 29, 2013. Hundreds of Malians looted Arab-owned shops Tuesday in Mali's fabled Timbuktu, newly freed from Islamists.Malian troops try to dissuade the crowd from looting shops in Timbuktu, Jan. 29, 2013. Hundreds of Malians looted Arab-owned shops Tuesday in Mali's fabled Timbuktu, newly freed from Islamists.
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Malian troops try to dissuade the crowd from looting shops in Timbuktu, Jan. 29, 2013. Hundreds of Malians looted Arab-owned shops Tuesday in Mali's fabled Timbuktu, newly freed from Islamists.
Malian troops try to dissuade the crowd from looting shops in Timbuktu, Jan. 29, 2013. Hundreds of Malians looted Arab-owned shops Tuesday in Mali's fabled Timbuktu, newly freed from Islamists.
French and Malian troops continue to work to secure the other two other major rebel strongholds in the north, the cities of Gao and Timbuktu.  Road access to the north remains blocked.
 
Both towns were taken in the past week without much of a fight.  Residents say many Islamist fighters had already fled before troops arrived.  Malian military sources say the Islamists are believed to have dispersed -- abandoning their vehicles and moving in small groups in an effort to blend in with the population.
 
Militants

Analysts worry that those remaining Islamist fighters could take refuge in the remote, mountainous parts of the far north.  They could then mount guerilla-style attacks against targets in Mali and neighboring countries.
 
Military sources say the more than 6,000 troops expected to be deployed to Mali from Chad and from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS will be key to securing and holding the vast territory.
 
France has said throughout its military operations in Mali that it plans to pass the baton to those African troops.
 
The French defense ministry said Tuesday that 2,900 African forces are already on the ground in Mali.  France has approximately 2,000 soldiers there.

  • 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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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Davis Thanjan
January 30, 2013 12:14 PM
France has done a remarkable job of temporaily halting the advance of the Moslem fundamentalist terrorist groups from taking over Mali. The terrorists evaded the pursuit of the French military by safely evacuating the captured towns and villages.

The French or Mali forces cannot claim the death or capture of any of the terrorists. The ECOWAS forces are too slow to engage in Mali. Under these circumstances the terrorists who crossed the border to other neighboring counries are just waiting for appropriate time, after the withdrawal of French forces, for a come back.

The only way the peace can be established in Mali is by (1) retaining a small contingent of rapid strike force of France in Mali, (2) ECOWAS forces keep the security of Mali till the Malian forces are trained and equiped for internal security, (3) the countries who assisted the France continue to provide similar assistanc to ECOWAS and Mali forces, and (4) the neigboring countries conduct combing military operation against the Moslem fundamentalist terror groups in areas close to Malian border. Otherwise the diaspora of Moslem fundamentalist terrorists will create more security problems in the neighboring countries.
In Response

by: Jacob from: United States
January 30, 2013 5:23 PM
Yeah, but when we intervene in Mali we leave out all of the others. The "democracy" callers in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya all have the same goal. Funny how the West chooses one of those countries to "intervene" in and leave the others alone even though there is no visible difference between them.
In Response

by: Sensi
January 30, 2013 5:03 PM
"The French or Mali forces cannot claim the death or capture of any of the terrorists."
Hmm, they killed dozens of them before, the remaining is just melting away.

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