FRENCH TROOPS DRIVE BACK JIHADISTS IN AFRICAN MALI

The Washington Times on January 12, 2013, published an AP report on the battle to retake Mali’s north from the al Qaeda-linked groups controlling it beginning after hundreds of French forces deployed to the country and began aerial bombardments to drive back the Islamic extremists.

At the same time, nations in West Africa authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali, fast-forwarding a military intervention that was not due to start until September.

The decision to begin the military operation was taken after the fighters, who seized the northern half of Mali nine months ago, decided earlier this week to push even further south to the town of Konna…

Many believe that if Mopti were to fall, the Islamists could potentially seize the rest of the country, dramatically raising the stakes

However, in a sign of how hard the battle ahead may be, the extremists succeeded in shooting down a French helicopter, the defense minister confirmed…

The Islamists are using arms stolen from ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s arsenal, as well as the weapons abandoned by Mali’s military when they fled their posts in the face of the rebel advance. They have outfitted SUVs with high-caliber machine guns, and have released videos displaying their collection of anti-aircraft weapons.

Online in jihadist forums, participants called for fighters to attack French interests in retaliation for the air raids. The sudden military operation is a reversal of months of debate over whether or not Western powers should get involved in a military bid to oust the militants, who took advantage of a coup in Mali’s capital in March to capture the north. As recently as December, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned against a quick military operation. Diplomats said that September would be the earliest the operation could take place.

In Washington, a U.S. official confirmed that the country has offered to send drones to Mali.

Hundreds of French troops were involved in the operation, code-named “Serval” after a sub-Saharan wildcat, officials in Paris said.

French intelligence services had detected preparations for what they described as a “major offensive” organized and coordinated by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, and their allies against the towns of Mopti and Diabaly. After a large number of vehicles were spotted heading toward the strategic town.

… air strikes began in the areas where the fighters operate, Le Drian said, led by French forces in Chad, where France has Mirage 2000 and Mirage F1 fighter jets stationed. Residents in the town of Lere, near the Mauritanian border, confirmed that it had been bombed.

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