• France's news in English
 

French troops close in on Mali Islamists

Published: 16 Jan 2013 11:08 GMT+01:00

French armoured units and Malian government forces were heading towards the town of Diabaly, which Al Qaeda-linked groups seized earlier this week even as French gunships and fighter jets pounded their strongholds further north.

"Several hundred Malian and French soldiers left Niono (south of Diabaly) to take" back the town, said a local government official in Niono, while a security source announced plans to "take back Diabaly with the French."

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian simply confirmed that ground troops had begun their ground offensive on the sixth day of the former colonial power's intervention in Mali but was short on specifics.

He admitted however that the 800 troops already deployed in Mali faced a long and tough battle against determined fighters whose number he estimated at up to 1,300.

"It's a little more difficult in the west, where we have the toughest, most fanatical and best-organised groups. It's underway there but it's difficult," he said.

French President Francois Hollande said his forces would crush the jihadist militia.

"What do we plan to do with the terrorists? Destroy them. Capture them, if possible," he said on Tuesday during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

On Tuesday, French soldiers drove out of the capital Bamako in around 30 armoured vehicles. Another convoy was also seen leaving Bamako in a northerly direction.

A company of 190 African troops is expected to arrive in Mali Wednesday, part of a Nigerian contribution that will eventually total 900.

Nigeria is leading the regional force, to which Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged numbers.

West African army chiefs in Bamako were expected to resume talks on Wednesday on the roll-out of the UN-mandated, 3,300-strong regional intervention force in the former French colony.

Mali has been effectively split in two since March 2012, when Islamists took advantage of a short-lived coup in Bamako and an offensive launched by Tuareg separatists in the north to seize half of the country.

Western countries had voiced fears that Mali's north -- a desert region larger than France -- could become Al-Qaeda's leading global safe haven and be used to launch attacks on targets in Europe.

France had repeatedly ruled out a direct military intervention until Islamist fighters pushed further south last week and were seen as threatening the capital Bamako.

Le Drian said France -- whose surprise intervention was lauded by its allies but has so far attracted limited Western military commitment -- would eventually boost its presence to 2,500 men.

President Francois Hollande stressed however that French troops would not be in Mali for good but would stay until security had been restored and the "terrorists" eliminated.

Hollande will chair a cabinet meeting on the crisis on Wednesday, while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault attends a parliamentary debate on the intervention. Political reaction at home has been largely supportive.

'Jihadists in it for the long haul'

Since France launched its air offensive on January 11th, Islamists have fled key northern stronghold towns, including ones where they had imposed their brutal version of Islamic law.

But analysts have warned the withdrawal was likely a tactical move.

"The jihadists are in it for the long-haul. They are comfortable in this situation: the vast desert, a difficult terrain, a precarious security situation," said Tunisian Islamist expert Alaya Allani.

One resident in the northern town of Gao reported that the Islamists had cut telecommunication links late on Tuesday, rendering land lines and mobile phones useless.

"They accuse residents of giving information to the (French) soldiers," he told AFP by satellite phone.

The UN and aid agencies have also expressed fears for civilians caught up in the conflict.

So far 144,500 refugees have fled the unrest to neighbouring Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria, the UN humanitarian agency said on Tuesday, while another 230,000 were internally displaced.

French diplomats and aid agencies plan to meet in Paris and Bamako this week to address the challenge.

Belgium offered two C-130 transport planes and two helicopters to back up France's offensive, while Britain and Canada have offered troop transporters. Germany is considering logistical or humanitarian support.

Hollande met Tuesday with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who raised the possibility of participating in the Mali operation, according to the French president's entourage.

Hollande also intimated that Chad and the United Arab Emirates could take part. However, Qatar and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, of which Mali is a member, have urged dialogue instead of military intervention.

At home, France has deployed 700 troops in and around Paris, indicating mounting concern over potential reprisal attacks.

Mali's militant Islamists have warned France has "opened the doors of hell" by unleashing its warplanes and called on fellow extremists to hit back on French soil.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Charlie Hebdo cartoonist wins top comic award
French cartoonist Riad Sattouf speaks after scooping the Fauve d'Or trophy. Photo: PIERRE DUFFOUR / AFP

Charlie Hebdo cartoonist wins top comic award

A youngster's tale of life torn between France and the Middle East by a Charlie Hebdo contributor scooped the top award at one of the world's biggest comics festivals in France on Sunday. READ  

Greek FM wants debt deal 'by the end of May'
New Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and his French counterpart Michel Sapin arrive at a press conference after their meeting on Sunday. Photo: JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP

Greek FM wants debt deal 'by the end of May'

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis on Sunday said he wanted to see a global agreement on his heavily indebted country's financial situation "by the end of May". READ  

Three more cops held over missing coke haul

Three more cops held over missing coke haul

Three French police officers were on Saturday brought before judges investigating the theft of more than 50 kilograms of cocaine from police headquarters in Paris last year, a judicial source told AFP. READ  

Frenchmen deported for nude pics at Angkor
A man cycles through the north gate of the Angkor Thom. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

Frenchmen deported for nude pics at Angkor

Three French tourists will be deported from Cambodia after they pleaded guilty to taking nude pictures of each other inside the country's famed Angkor temple complex, a prosecutor said Saturday. READ  

Greek FM in Paris to lobby for debt cuts
Yanis Varoufakis at the handover to the new Greek government earlier this week. Photo: ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

Greek FM in Paris to lobby for debt cuts

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has moved forward to Saturday a planned trip to Paris that launches the new anti-austerity government's search for EU allies, his office said. READ  

When French tourists behave badly abroad
In 2013 France's consul-general in Australia issued a plea to French backpackers saying their behaviour was bringing shame on the French community. Photo: drunk_by_i_woke_up_today/Flickr

When French tourists behave badly abroad

The French aren’t known to be a particularly rowdy bunch, but they have been known to misbehave while abroad. From an orgy in the Pompeii brothel to scaling an American landmark, we've made a countdown of some of their most mischievous exploits. And the prize for the naughtiest goes to… READ  

France lists how to spot jihadists (and new dads)
Nine ways to spot a potential jihadist, by the French government. New parents beware. Photo: AFP

France lists how to spot jihadists (and new dads)

As part of its new counter-terrorist campaign “Stop Jihadism”, the French government has released a nine-point check list to help people spot someone on the path to jihad, but The Local fears suspicion may fall on all new parents. READ  

Your top 20 favourite French words
Your top 20 favourite French words. photo: Shutterstock

Your top 20 favourite French words

Everyone's got their favourite French words, whether they're amusing, odd or just fun to pronounce. After we put the call out to readers The Local has put together a list of your suggestions. See if yours made our top 20. READ  

Football
Marseille victim of €700,000 Chinese scam
Marseille's teammates celebrate after winning the French Ligue 1 friendly between Marseille and Benfica Lisbonne in July, 2014. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/AFP

Marseille victim of €700,000 Chinese scam

French Ligue 1 giants Marseille were the victims of a €700,000 ($793,000) international bank transfer scam to China last year, sources close to the case told AFP on Friday. READ  

Frenchmen held for nude pics at Angkor temple
The male tourists were discovered inside the Banteay Kdei temple. Photo: Leon petrosyan/Wikicommons

Frenchmen held for nude pics at Angkor temple

UPDATED: Three French tourists have been arrested by Cambodian authorities for taking nude photos of each other inside the country's famed Angkor temple complex, officials said on Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Why you should steer well clear of Michelin's top Paris restaurants
Business & Money
FATCA: 'The age of financial privacy is over'
National
France's trial of the year: DSK prepares for court
Culture
The myths that mean French lovers regularly disappoint
National
What you can’t say or tweet in post-terror attacks France
Features
Everything you need to know about studying in France
Culture
What's on in France: Ten things to do in February
National
The ways French motorists drive expats crazy
National
'French culture demands jihadists are punished not de-radicalised'
Culture
'Midriff the new cleavage' at Chanel's Paris show
Politics
'Syriza victory is good news for French people'
Society
France bars parents from naming baby 'Nutella'
National
France has no entrepreneurs!? What about fart pills for windy lovers?
Society
Nutella to Happy: The wacky French baby names banned by law
Culture
Men's Fashion Week in Paris in pictures - from penises to androgyny
Health
Could France be the next country to ban sunbeds?
Gallery
Ten French words you will never hear in France
National
Wrap up warm: Big freeze to hit northern France at the weekend
National
Muslims in France - 'They say we're not French'
National
Paris wants New York-inspired 'citizen cards'
Gallery
An architect has shown how he thinks Paris should look in 2050
Culture
Where are the real "no-go zones" in Paris? We've listed 10.
Society
Cheese diet helps oldest Frenchman live to 110
National
Charlie Hebdo chief stands firm over cartoons as global protests spread
National
'It feels like I'm in a warzone': Paris tourist
National
Are there really 'no-go zones' in Paris?
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
National
A futuristic vision of Paris revealed... and other news
National
What now for France post-terror attacks?
National
France to beef up its surveillance powers
National
Charlie Hebdo sells out within hours in France
Politics
Paris attacks: Knock-on effects in Sweden and across Europe
National
France moves to crack down on terror speech in aftermath of attacks
National
French Muslims react to Charlie Hebdo's Muhammad cover
National
'I only had a few seconds to hide from the Kouachis'
National
After three days of terror France feels like a nation
National
IN PICTURES: France's biggest street demos in recent history
National
And in other news in France ...
National
A defiant France rises up on solidarity like never before
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Paris marches for unity after terror attacks
National
OPINION: 'As bloody as it's been, France is not at war'
National
'It's a true nightmare': Parisians react to terror attacks
National
French to march in unity to help heal their wounded nation
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

549
jobs available