Share via Email This article is over 5 years old Mali conflict: Despite intensive bombardments, the fundamentalist insurgents pushing south towards the capital, Bamako, overran the central town of Diabaly, just miles to the north. An Islamist militant leader warned the French government its intervention in Mali had opened the "gates of hell". France's defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said that in a counter-offensive heavily armed rebels "took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that couldn't hold them back".
France immediately extended its bombardment of the Islamists with air strikes in central Mali. While officials in Paris declared they were "satisfied" with Operation Serval, as the French military intervention is codenamed, the military was also reporting unexpectedly fierce resistance in the west of the country. Le Drian said the situation was "evolving favourably", but admitted: They are heavily armed.
They are very determined. They are very well organised. We knew this," he said. He said the French government had opened the "gates of hell" and "fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia".
Hamaha, known as "Red Beard" because of his hennaed hair, added: Civilian trucks, vans and transport vehicles have been commandeered by the army in recent days to ferry personnel around the city. Soldiers from other African nations have been seen in Bamako, and were due to be sent north to support the Malian army, but residents in the key strategic town of Mopti said they had yet to arrive. Paris justified the intervention on the grounds of maintaining stability in the region and reducing the risk of terrorist attacks elsewhere, including France.
About French ground troops are already in Bamako and others are expected to follow. Earlier, an EU spokesman, Michael Mann, said the EU was speeding up its preparations for a troop training mission but was not planning any combat role.
The north of Mali fell under the control of Islamists nine months ago. As the international community dithered over what to do, France decided to launch a campaign of air strikes after rebel convoys were reported to be moving south towards Bamako.
The French strikes are being carried out by Mirage fighter jets based in Chad and Gazelle helicopter gunships. Rafale jets are also reported to be flying bombing missions from France. A group of independence-seeking Touaregs has said it will support the Malian government and French in the battle against the Islamists. The Azawad is the northern region occupied by the Islamists.
On Monday, the French military bombed Islamist bases in Douentza, miles north of Bamako, for the fourth day running. However, the fundamentalists were reported to have already fled the town. The air campaign was said to have had more success at the northern Islamist camp at Gao. The Islamists were taken by surprise in the middle of a meeting.
There were a lot killed," a Malian regional security source told AFP. The figure of 60 deaths isn't an exaggeration at Gao and might even be higher. There were French special forces on the ground for the best part of the last year. They were there when I was in Mali and had spotted a couple of French passport holders heading for the north to join the jihadists," he said.
It wasn't a surprise either to all the aficionados who think France has decided to ramp this up into a full-scale emergency, zap the hell out of the jihadists and shut them up for a while to give the African forces time to get organised.
The big danger is thinking bashing these [Islamist] camps to bits means the problem is over. Some people will tell you they have no support at all and it's all at the point of a gun, others that they do have support.
Tens of millions of dollars from people and cocaine smuggling, so they can pay much better wages than the state army. They may not have the hearts and minds, but they certainly have the dosh.
Save the Children warned that women and children were being forced to flee for their lives were among the poorest and most vulnerable in the country. Families forced from their homes are adding to nearly , people who fled the region after last year's fighting erupted.