Mali army retakes town, Islamists flee French air raids

Fri Jan 18, 2013 8:33pm EST
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By Bate Felix and Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO/MARKALA, Mali (Reuters) - Islamist rebels in Mali abandoned the central town of Diabaly on Friday after fleeing a French air strike, military sources said, while West African troops arrived in Bamako to take on the insurgents in Mali's north.

France, warning that Islamist control over Mali's vast deserts and rugged mountains threatened the security of Africa and the West, had targeted Diabaly in an eighth day of air strikes to dislodge hardened al Qaeda-linked fighters there.

"They (the Islamists) fled the town, dressed as civilians, early this morning. They abandoned their weapons and ammunition," a Malian military source said.

The source said government soldiers had not yet entered the town but Diabaly Mayor Oumar Diakite told Reuters that troops were there carrying out mopping-up operations after a French air strike earlier in the day.

Diakite said residents had dug up some of the Islamist fighters' weapons caches. "There are lots of burned-out vehicles that the Islamists tried to hide in the orchards," he added.

A commander in the Malian army in nearby Markala said ground forces were operating around Diabaly, which lies about 360 km (220 miles) northeast of Bamako, but could not confirm that the town, seized by Islamists on Monday, had been recaptured.

French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said he was not aware of any operation in the area.

If officially confirmed, it would be a second military success for the French-led military alliance after Islamists on Thursday night abandoned Konna, to the north of the central garrison town of Sevare.   Continued...

Nigerian soldiers patrol at the Mali air force base near Bamako as troops await their deployment January 18, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard