Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

January 14, 2013

French jets bomb major Malian city in north

BAMAKO, Mali — French fighter jets bombed rebel targets in a major city in Mali’s north Sunday, pounding the airport as well as training camps, warehouses and buildings used by the al-Qaida-linked Islamists controlling the area, officials and residents said.

Now in its third-day, the French-led effort to take back Mali’s north from the extremists began with airstrikes by combat helicopters in the small town of Konna. It has grown to a coordinated attack by state-of-the-art fighter jets which have bombarded at least five towns, of which Gao, which was attacked Sunday afternoon, is the largest.

More than 400 French troops have been deployed to the country in the all-out effort to win back the territory from the well-armed rebels, who seized control of an area larger than France nine months ago. What began as a French offensive has now grown to include seven other countries, including logistical support from the U.S. and Europe. The United States is providing communications and transport help, while Britain is sending C17 aircrafts to help Mali’s allies transport troops to the frontlines.

French President Francois Hollande authorized the intervention after it became clear the swiftly advancing rebels could break Mali’s military defenses in Mopti, the first town on the government-controlled side, located in the center of this African country. The move catapulted the world into a fight that diplomats had earlier said would not take place until at least September.

“French fighter jets have identified and destroyed this Sunday, Jan. 13, numerous targets in northern Mali near Gao, in particular training camps, infrastructure and logistical depots which served as bases for terrorist groups,” the French defense ministry said in a statement.

French officials have acknowledged that the rebels are better armed than they expected, and one of the first fatalities was a 41-year-old French pilot, whose helicopter was downed by rebel fire near the town of Konna.

The Islamists, including three separate rebel groups, all of which have either direct or indirect ties to al-Qaida, are armed with weapons stolen from the abandoned arsenal of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. They are also in possession of the weapons left behind by Mali’s army, which abandoned the north in the face of the rebel advance last April. The fighters managed to seize the territory in the north after a military coup led to political turmoil in the once-stable nation of 15.8 million last March.

A French presidential aide who was not authorized to be publicly named said that the insurgents are “well-equipped, well-armed and well-trained,” and are using high-end equipment. “They obtained from Libya modern, sophisticated equipment, much stronger and more efficient than we had imagined,” he said.

One of the commanders controlling Gao confirmed that the French had flattened a building at the northern entrance to the town used by his fighters as a checkpoint and that three of his men died, crushed under the structure’s falling roof. Oumar Ould Hamaha further confirmed that fighter jets had hit training camps and depots.

He egged on the French, calling them cowards and saying that their attack has only heightened the rebels’ desire for jihad. “Our jihadists are not a bunch of sheep waiting to be slaughtered inside a closed pen,” said Hamaha. “Listen closely to me. Our elements are constantly on the move. What they hit is a bunch of cement. France is going to reap the worst consequences possible from this. Now no French person can feel safe anywhere in the world. Every French national is a target.”

Hamaha said he and his fighters drove to a spot around 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) outside the city to try to lure the jets away from the population center and into a direct confrontation. He claims the jets flying at an altitude of 13,000 meters made a U-turn after seeing the anti-aircraft missiles and weaponry mounted on the rebel trucks.

In Gao, Abderahmane Dicko, a public school teacher, said he and his neighbors heard the triangle-shaped jets screaming across the sky between noon and 1 p.m. local time. “We saw the war planes circling. They were targeting the camps used by the Islamists. They only hit their bases. They didn’t shoot at the population,” he said.

But the intervention has come with a cost to civilians. In the city of Konna, the first to be bombed, 11 Malians were killed, Mali presidential spokesman Ousmane Sy said. The town’s mayor, Sory Diakite, said the dead included three children who threw themselves into a river and drowned while trying to avoid the falling bombs.

In addition to Gao and Konna, other targets have included Douentza, Lere and, late Sunday, the small locality of Agharous Kayoune, residents and local officials said.

Residents are streaming out of the towns that have been hit. In Lere, people were heading across the nearby border to Mauritania, adding to the hundreds of thousands of refugees already displaced by the crisis in Mali.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed Sunday that the United States is providing communications and transport assistance. Over the weekend, a U.S. official confirmed that America will be sending drones. Britain has dispatched two, C17 aircrafts to France to help Mali’s allies transport troops. Four nations in West Africa have pledged to send hundreds of soldiers, including 500 each from Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal, as well as from Nigeria.

Additionally, Fabius said Denmark and other European countries are also helping, according to an interview with RTL radio. On Monday, the United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss the crisis in Mali, said Brieuc Pont, a spokesman for the French U.N. Mission said.

French and Malian officials say the lightning offensive has halted the rebels’ advance. “The Islamist offensive has been stopped,” Fabius said. “Blocking the terrorists ... we’ve done it.”

However, the rebels still control the northern half of Mali, representing the largest area under the grip of al-Qaida and its allies in the world.

The region is larger than Afghanistan, and throughout it, the bearded and turbaned fighters have imposed their unyielding form of Islam. Music is banned, as are cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol. Women are regularly flogged in public for offenses ranging from not covering their ankles to wearing perfume or make-up.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • AP4507280123 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, July 28, 2014
    Today is Monday, July 28, the 209th day of 2014. There are 156 days left in the year. 
     

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tentative deal reached on VA reform

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    July 27, 2014

  • United States-Libya_Rich.jpg US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes

    The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said “free-wheeling militia violence” prompted the move.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP9607270692 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Today is Sunday, July 27, the 208th day of 2014. There are 157 days left in the year.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • No ticket for Shrek over loud musical, chief says

    A musical being performed in a New Hampshire park has drawn some noise complaints, but the deputy police chief says he’s “not giving Shrek a ticket.”

    July 26, 2014

  • Arizona Execution Dru_Rich copy.jpg Arizona’s McCain: Execution was torture

    U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich copy.jpg US: Russia firing into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP7107260254 copy.jpg Today in History for Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Today is Saturday, July 26, the 207th day of 2014. There are 158 days left in the year.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results