• Nearly 30 bombs have been dropped from fighter jets over past two days
  • Special forces sweep into airport in Gao, the country’s largest northern city
  • Gao was seized by jihadist fighters nine months ago

By
Emma Reynolds

09:18, 27 January 2013


|

09:39, 27 January 2013

France has defeated jihadist fighters to take control of a key Malian city, the European country’s ministry announced today.

The French military wrested control of the airport at Mali’s largest northern city, under cover of darkness, in a major breakthrough in its offensive to rout the Islamists from power.

Nearly 30 bombs have reportedly been dropped from fighter jets over the past two days during the struggle to beat the extremists, who have links to al-Qaeda.

Success: French forces yesterday wrested control of the airport at the Islamist stronghold of Gao

Success: French forces yesterday wrested control of the airport at the Islamist stronghold of Gao

Our move: French soldiers man a checkpoint in Bamako yesterday, as special forces descended on Gao

Our move: French soldiers man a checkpoint in Bamako yesterday, as special forces descended on Gao

Ravaged: Malian soldiers walk past the bullet ridden wall of a house in a destroyed part of Konna yesterday

Ravaged: Malian soldiers walk past the bullet ridden wall of a house in a destroyed part of Konna yesterday

Offensive: French soldiers in Bamako check an aircraft used to send equipment to frontline troops

Offensive: French soldiers in Bamako check an aircraft used to send equipment to frontline troops

Under fire: French and Malian forces, pictured, faced sporadic 'acts of harassment' from the Islamist rebels

Under fire: French and Malian forces, pictured, faced sporadic ‘acts of harassment’ from the Islamist rebels

Special forces stormed in by land
and by air two weeks ago, coming under fire from ‘several terrorist elements’ that
were later ‘destroyed’, the French miltary said in a statement
on its website.

In a later press release entitled ‘French and Malian troops liberate Gao’, the French ministry of defence said they were bringing back the town’s mayor, Sadou Diallo, who had fled to the Malian capital Bamako.

But a defence ministry official clarified that the city had not been fully liberated, and the process of freeing Gao was continuing.

Gao, in north-eastern Mali, was seized by the jihadist fighters nine months ago, and the battle to retake it was expected to be tough.

The rebel fighters are believed to include Algerians, Egyptians, Mauritanians, Libyans, Tunisians, Pakistanis and even Afghans.

French and Malian forces faced sporadic ‘acts of harassment’ during the day, said Colonel Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman in Paris. He had no immediate estimate on casualties.

Support: A French military medical team prepares to move out of the airport at Bamako, Mail's capital

Support: A French military medical team prepares to move out of the airport at Bamako, Mail’s capital

Uprising: France admits Gao is still not fully liberated following the takeover nine months ago

Uprising: France admits Gao is still not fully liberated following the takeover nine months ago

Airstrikes: Kountoun Traore stares at the wreck of an Islamic militant's car outside his home in Diabaly

Airstrikes: Kountoun Traore stares at the wreck of an Islamic militant’s car outside his home in Diabaly

Fight: Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Lere and Diabaly (pictured) were all seized by militants but are steadily being retaken

Fight: Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Lere and Diabaly (pictured) were all seized by militants but are steadily being retaken

Life goes on: The armies are advancing north along two fronts in Mali's north east and north west

Life goes on: The armies are advancing north along two fronts in Mali’s north east and north west

The operation in Gao comes at the same time as airstrikes in the two other provincial capitals held by the extremists – the cities of Timbuktu and Kidal, which like Gao fell to the rebels last April, during the chaotic aftermath of a coup in the distant capital.

The simultaneous aerial attacks also come as ground troops are carrying out a pincer movement, with French and African land forces heading to Gao from Niger, where Chad has sent a battalion.

The Pentagon has said that the US will aid the French military with aerial refuelling missions.

US aerial refuelling planes would be a boost to air support for French ground forces as they enter areas of Mali that are controlled by the extremists.

The US was already helping France by transporting French troops and equipment to the West African nation.

French and Malian forces are also heading to Timbuktu, via the central corridor that leads north from the central Malian city of Segou, through the recently recaptured town of Diabaly.

Since France began its military operation, the Islamists have retreated from three small towns in central Mali – Diabaly, Konna and Douentza.

French troops gain control of key Malian city in offensive to drive out Islamic … – Daily Mail
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