Jan 23 2013
On Monday, following three days of air strikes, French and Malian forces seized control of two towns in Central Mali, Diabaly and Douentza.
Islamist militants took the area in a series of raids five days ago before being routed by French forces. The rebels barricaded themselves in the town, entrenching themselves among the local population. Despite the proximity to residential neighborhoods, locals say that no civilians were killed in the airstrikes.
As of Tuesday, French soldiers were reportedly still patrolling the streets of Diabaly, even as residents expressed concern about militants hiding among them. French troops have been welcomed by locals – according to Diabaly resident, Mohamed Tounkara, speaking to the New York Times, “If France stays here, I trust their army… We don’t have complete faith in our army, honestly.”
Meanwhile, Reuters has reported scores of pick-up trucks carrying Islamist fighters pouring into the historic Malian city of Timbuktu since Saturday when the rebel forces began falling back to their northern strongholds.
French authorities have stressed that the involvement of African forces is critical to sustain the momentum of France’s air campaign. About 1,000 African troops from West Africa and Chad have arrived so far and more than 4,000 additional soldiers are expected in the coming weeks when France plans to target the rebel stronghold of northern Mali to prevent further attacks. The area in question is vast – a desert the size of Texas.
While avoiding any direct military action, the United States has supplied French and Malian armies with logistical support through surveillance and transportation.
This latest French advance comes on the heels of a four-day long hostage crisis in neighboring Algeria, where a number of foreign nationals including three Americans at a BP facility were kidnapped by rebels associated with the Mali fighters. The ensuing standoff resulted in thirty seven hostages, and dozens of their captors dead. The Algerian rebel leader Moktar Belmoktar claimed responsibility for the incident, saying it was in response to the Algerian government allowing French troops to use its airspace for it’s Mali operations.
GUEST: John Entelis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and at Fordham University