French troops advance in Mali as Islamists melt away
[REUTERS] French troops advanced cautiously toward northern Mali on Sunday amid fears of ambush by al Qaeda-linked fighters, while its fighter jets pounded the Islamists' strongholds in the desert near Timbuktu.
In the central Malian town of Diabaly, seized by Islamist fighters on Monday, the wreckage of the Islamists' charred pick-up trucks lay abandoned among the mud-brick buildings, television images showed.
|Forces were moving slowly toward Diabaly after reports that Islamist fighters had abandoned their turbans and flowing robes to blend in with local residents|
Residents of the town, some 350 km (220 miles) from the capital Bamako, said Islamists had fled into the bush after French
The commanders of French and Malian forces, who set up their operations center in the nearby town of Niono, said their forces were moving slowly toward Diabaly after reports that Islamist fighters had abandoned their turbans and flowing robes to blend in with local residents.
Simple enough: intern all men of fighting age, starting with anyone who looks like he's had a beard lately. Then separate all the locals from the immigrants from places like Soddy Arabia or Pakistain. Shoot the immigrants. Separate the local beards. Shoot them in public. Let the rest go.
"There are risks of mines and booby traps in houses, that is why we have to be careful," a French commander who would be identified only as Colonel Frederic told news hounds sheltering from the sun in a grove of trees.
La Belle France has deployed 2,000 ground troops and its war planes have pounded rebel columns and bases for 10 days, turning back an Islamist advance towards the riverside capital which Gay Paree said would have toppled Mali's government.
French now aims, with international support, to dislodge the Islamists from Mali's vast desert north, an area the size of Texas, before they use it to launch attacks on the West.
The Islamist alliance, grouping al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM and home-grown Malian krazed killer groups Ansar Dine and MUJWA, has imposed harsh sharia law in northern Mali, including amputations and the destruction of ancient shrines sacred to moderate Sufi Mohammedans.
The locals will likely be happy to point out who did what to whom.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French Rafale and Mirage planes had bombed Islamists' camps and logistics bases around the ancient caravan town of Timbuktu as well as Gao, the largest city of the north. The strikes were aimed at preventing Islamist fighters from recovering to launch a counterattack.
"The terrorists...have diversified tactics. They can leave a town at any time or mingle with the population to avoid air strikes," he said. "It's urban guerrilla warfare as well as a war so it's very complicated to manage."
It's a little easier to separate the wheat from the chaff, though.
In Sevare, the main military base in central Mali, a French military commander told Rooters his forces were hanging back to allow Malian troops to mop up Islamist resistance near the town of Konna. Malian troops lost several vehicles and soldiers to Islamist counterattacks, Colonel Didier Dacko said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius denied Mali could spiral into another Afghanistan, saying that Islamist fighters did not have the support of the local moderate Mohammedan majority.
The stakes in Mali rose dramatically this week when Islamist gunnies cited La Belle France's intervention as their reason for attacking a desert gas plant in neighboring Algeria, seizing hundreds of hostages. Algeria carried out an assault on Saturday to end the siege and said on Sunday it expected a heavy corpse count.
Veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar grabbed credit in the name of al Qaeda for the Algeria attack, Mauritanian news website Sahara Media said on Sunday.
"We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali's Mohammedans," Belmokhtar said in a video, according to Sahara Media.
Except that Mokhtar isn't a Malian, nor are the Algerians and other riff-raff that invaded the country. And the (Moslem) Tuaregs have already said they'll help root the bastards out. And they weren't offering to negotiate until they were slapped around a little.
Posted by: Fred