“Little” Mali is probably a little less than the size of Alaska and Texas put together so it is no wonder that few Americans know where it is or care to know. But in Africa they do know, and they care. This report is an excerpt from today’s Al Jazeera.
Rebels have grabbed more territory in Mali, inching closer to the capital despite intensive aerial bombardments by French warplanes, French and Malian authorities have said.
The al-Qaeda-linked rebels overran the garrison village of Diabaly in central Mali, France’s defence minister said in Paris on Monday.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said the rebels “took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that couldn’t hold them back”‘.
The Malian military is in disarray and has let many towns fall with barely a shot fired since the insurgency began almost a year ago in the northwest African nation.
French military forces, who began battling in Mali on Friday, widened their aerial bombing campaign against the rebels occupying northern Mali, launching airstrikes for the first time in central Mali to combat the new threat.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the capital Bamako, said: “There are reports of about 60 fighters being killed thus far while Doctors without Borders say they are very concerned about the lives of civilians in the region.”
The rebels, who come from several nations besides Mali, had been bottled up in the narrow neck of central Mali. But by now sweeping in from the west, they are now only 400km from Bamako, in southern Mali.
Before France sent its forces in on Friday, the closest known spot the rebels were to the capital was 680km away, although they might have infiltrated closer than that.
‘Africanisation’ of conflict
France is urging the “Africanisation” of the conflict, encouraging African nations to send troops to fight the rebels.
There have been promises, but no troops movements have yet been publicly announced.
Early Monday, an intelligence agent confirmed that shots rang out near the Diabaly military camp in what was still nominally government-held territory and that soon after, jets were heard overhead, followed by explosions.
The agent insisted on anonymity because he is not authorised to speak publicly on the matter.
A Malian commander in the nearby town of Niono said the bombardments did not stop the fighters and that they occupied Alatona.
The commander said that on Monday, the rebels succeeded in reaching the north-south road which connects Diabaly to Segou, the administrative capital of central Mali.