Despite intensive aerial bombardments by French warplanes, Islamist insurgents grabbed more territory in Mali yesterday and got much closer to the capital, French and Malian authorities said.
In the latest setback, the extremists overran the garrison village of Diabaly in central Mali, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Paris yesterday.
The rebels “took Diabaly after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that couldn’t hold them back,” Le Drian said.
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 Islamic extremists occupying northern Mali, launching airstrikes for the first time in central Mali to combat the new threat. The rebels, who come from several nations besides Mali, had been bottled up in the narrow neck of central Mali. However, they are now only 400km from Mali’s capital, Bamako, in the south of the country.
Before France sent its forces in on Friday, the closest known spot the Islamists were to the capital was 680km away, though they might have infiltrated closer than that.
France is urging the “Africanization” of the conflict, encouraging African nations to send troops to fight the Islamic extremists. There have been promises, but no troops movements have yet been publicly announced.
Early yesterday, 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 authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
A Malian commander in the nearby town of Niono said the bombardments did not stop the Islamist fighters and that they occupied Alatona, and yesterday succeeded in reaching the north-south road which connects Diabaly to Segou, the administrative capital of central Mali.