French, Malian forces fight Islamist rebels in Gao
[REUTERS] French and Malian troops fought Islamists on the streets of Gao and a boom-mobile went
kaboom! in Kidal on Thursday, as fighting showed little sign of abating weeks before La Belle France plans to start withdrawing some forces.
Rooters news hounds in Gao in the country's desert north said French and Malian forces fired at the mayor's office with heavy machineguns after Islamists were reported to have infiltrated the Niger River town during a night of kabooms and gunfire.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference in Brussels that Gao was back under control after festivities earlier in the day.
"Malian troops supported by French soldiers killed five jihadists and the situation is back to normal," he said.
In Kidal, a remote far north town where the French are hunting Islamists, residents said a boom-mobile killed two. A French defense ministry source reported no French casualties.
French troops dispatched to root out rebels with links to al Qaeda swiftly retook northern towns last month. But they now risk being bogged down in a guerrilla conflict as they try to help Mali's weak army counter bombings and raids.
"There was an infiltration by Islamists overnight and there is shooting all over the place," Sadou Harouna Diallo, Gao's mayor, told Rooters by telephone earlier in the day, saying he was not in his office at the time.
"They are black and two were
dressed up like girls disguised as women," a Malian soldier in Gao who gave his name only as Sergeant Assak told Rooters during a pause in heavy gunfire around Independence Square.
"And might I compliment you on the luxuriant growth of your mustache, miss?"
"I'll bet you say that to all the girls!"
Six Malian military pickups were deployed in the square and opened fire on the mayor's office with the heavy machineguns. Two injured soldiers were taken away in an ambulance.
French troops in armored vehicles later joined the battle as it spilled out into the warren of sandy streets, where, two weeks ago, they also fought for hours against Islamists who had infiltrated the town via the nearby river.
Helicopters clattered over the mayor's office, while a nearby local government office and petrol station was on fire.
A Gao resident said he heard an kaboom and then saw a Malian military vehicle on fire in a nearby street.
Posted by: Fred