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French forces, he said in a radio interview late Sunday, were now “taking care” of rear bases used by Islamists who took control of much of the north of the country last year after a military coup in the capital, Bamako. The duration of the French operation was “a question of weeks,” Mr. Fabius said, unlike, he insisted, the American-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
There were few new details on Monday about the French intervention that began on Friday and continued over the weekend. French airstrikes in Mali appeared to halt an Islamist rebel advance, as West African nations authorized what they said would be a faster deployment of troops in support of the weak government.
French aircraft dropped bombs and fired rockets from helicopter gunships and jet fighters after the Islamists, who already control the north of Mali, pressed southward and overran the village of Konna, which had been the de facto line of government control.
The French struck two columns of Islamist fighters, the French Defense Ministry said. The first was in and around Konna, driving out the rebels from the village, and the second was across a river, heading south toward the southern Mali town of Ségou, north of Bamako.
On Sunday evening, French jets attacked the northern town of Gao, an insurgent stronghold.
Abdheramane Oumarou, a local counselor in Gao reached late Sunday after a day of French airstrikes, said: “We are in the best of all possible worlds. The planes have been circling Gao since five this morning. All the of the sites they targeted, they hit. The airport. The warehouses, they destroyed them. These were all sites occupied by the Islamists, and they have been totally destroyed.”
“The Islamists are in hiding. There were many dead,” he said. For the first time since the insurgents overran the town last year, “the population of Gao will sleep soundly, and will even snore.”
Britain announced late on Saturday that it would help to transport foreign troops and equipment to Mali, though would not send its own soldiers to fight. Despite a technical hitch with one of them, two British military transport planes were expected to head for Mali on Monday with equipment including French armored vehicles from a base in Normandy, the British Defense Ministry said.
“There is a very dangerous Islamist regime allied to Al Qaeda in control of the north of that country,” Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday. “It was threatening the south of that country and we should support the action that the French have taken.”
“So we were first out of the blocks, as it were, to say to the French, ‘We’ll help you, we’ll work with you and we’ll share what intelligence we have with you and try to help you with what you are doing,’” Mr. Cameron told the BBC in a radio interview.
Mr. Fabius said the military effort had three goals: to “block the advance of the terrorists, which is done,” to restore Mali’s territorial integrity “which will take more time,” and to secure the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Mali crisis.
“If France had not intervened,” he said, the rebels “could have reached Bamako, with appalling consequences” not only for the Malian population but also for the 6,000 French and other Western citizens living in the capital of the former French colony.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that the rebels could have reached Bamako in “three or four days” if France had not intervened.
"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," he said on a political talk show.
France now has more than 400 troops in Bamako, mainly to ensure the safety of French citizens and to send a signal to the Islamists, out of a total of 550 troops in Mali. The others, including some special forces, are in the town of Mopti in the south. It has also deployed Rafale jet fighters to attack rebel positions.
“The intervention is still in progress and we will continue,” Mr. Le Drian said.
A French analyst, who is briefed on the situation but declined to be identified by name, said France believed the United States would deliver on promises of in-flight refueling the air campaign, logistical support and reconnaissance.
The analyst said the dilemma facing French forces is now whether to maintain a United Nations schedule for West African and Malian troops to seek to recapture the north in the fall after seasonal rains, “which given the current dynamic seems hard to imagine” or to “speed things up and try to clear the north in the next eight weeks” before the rainy season.
That could extend the duration of the French intervention, the analyst said.
Steven Erlanger reported from Paris, Adam Nossiter from Bamako, Mali, and Alan Cowell from London.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
France said it’s sending more jet fighters to target Islamists in northern Mali as part of a push that began two days ago and will continue until the rebel forces are “eradicated.”
“Raids are continuing right now,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today on Europe 1 radio. “There were raids last night; there will be more this afternoon and tomorrow.”
France and west African states are seeking to stop Mali from being overrun by the militants, a development they say would give terrorists a base for destabilizing the region and Europe. Rapid progress by the rebels last week prompted France to start military action, almost nine months earlier than most analysts had predicted.
The intervention so far has been handled by the 550 French troops in the country, though Le Drian pledged to send reinforcements as necessary. West African nations have pledged to send about 2,000 soldiers to oust the militants, while the U.S. has offered to provide intelligence, logistical support and in-flight refueling for French aircraft. The U.K. is assisting with two Boeing C-17 military cargo aircraft to help transport troops.
“We’re reinforcing and will continue to do so as necessary,” Le Drian said. “The objective, as set out by the United Nations and the African Union, is for Mali to be a sovereign state and for the terrorist groups to be eradicated.”
One French soldier, a helicopter pilot, has been killed since operations began, while the rebels have lost “a significant number of partisans,” Le Drian said. The French effort has destroyed pick-up trucks, arms depots and other sensitive sites, thus far pushing back a rebel offensive in the east of the country while fighting continues in the west.
More than 100 people, including rebels and Malian government soldiers, were killed in yesterday’s fighting, Xinhua said, citing an unidentified Malian military official.
The Islamists, who already control the north of the country, last week began an offensive that captured the town of Kona, 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Mopti, the last Malian military outpost before insurgent-held territory.
Kona was quiet early today after a firefight yesterday that killed 11 people and injured 60, according to the Malian government.
“This morning it’s calm, we no longer hear gunfire,” Kona resident Aguibou Cisse said by telephone. Colonel Diarran Kone, a spokesman for Mali’s military, said the army “controls the situation” there.
While the French action in its former colony will temporarily halt the Islamists’ advance, a larger ground force will have to be sent in to destroy them, said Sebastian Spio- Garbrah, managing director of New York-based risk consultancy DaMina Advisors LLP.
“France’s unilateral military action weakens that Africa- led UN mandate for forces and introduces an anti-colonial element to the Islamist fight,” he said yesterday by e-mail. “Ecowas is totally not ready, and France is not willing to keep the commandos on the ground for too long either,” he said, referring to the 15-nation west African economic bloc.
“The threat is that a terrorist state will be created near Europe and France,” Le Drian said yesterday. “We had to react before it was too late. They won’t succeed. We are determined to prevent this.”
Mali vies with Tanzania to be Africa’s third-biggest gold producer. The landlocked nation is about twice the size of Texas and has a population of about 15.5 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. Life expectancy is about 53 years.
The UN Security Council on Jan. 10 expressed “grave concern” about attacks by “terrorist and extremist groups” in Mali. French President Francois Hollande said France’s military actions are covered by a Dec. 21 Security Council resolution that approved a west African military operation to retake the north.
Nigeria has already sent Major General U. Abdulkadri, who will lead the Ecowas force, and an air force technical team to Mali, Reuben Abati, a spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan, said by telephone yesterday. The country plans to deploy about 600 soldiers in Mali.
Burkina Faso plans to contribute 500 soldiers, Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole said in a statement handed to reporters today in the capital, Ouagadougou.
Malian Interim President Dioncounda Traore, backed by governments in neighboring countries, asked for the French intervention. Other European countries support France’s military action, named Operation Serval after an African wild cat, though they aren’t participating, Le Drian said.
Islamist groups including the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar ud-Din and al-Qaeda’s north African unit, along with Touareg separatists, took control of an area of northern Mali the size of France after a military coup led by Captain Amadou Sanogo in March.
The French presence improves the viability of the civilian transitional government, said Samir Gadio, a London-based emerging-markets strategist at Standard Bank Group Ltd.
“It effectively undermines the power base of Captain Sanogo and his associates in the Malian army now that foreign troops are on the ground,” Gadio said in an e-mailed reply to questions yesterday.
Hollande’s go-alone decision to intervene in Mali without European countries or the U.S. is a sign that there was urgency or the capital of “Bamako would have fallen,” Jean-Pierre Maulny, a deputy director at the Institute For International and Strategic Relations in Paris, said on BFM TV. “France may put a very small number of special forces on the ground to fight but this isn’t a major intervention.”
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Saturday, January 12, 2013
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JUNEAU, Alaska A powerful earthquake sparked a tsunami warning for hundreds of miles of Alaskan and Canadian coastline, but the alert was canceled when no damaging waves were generated.
The magnitude 7.5 quake did generate a tsunami, but the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said the waves didn't pose a threat.
The temblor struck at midnight Friday (1 a.m. PST Saturday) and was centered about 60 miles west of Craig, Alaska, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The tsunami followed minutes later and was eventually expanded to include coastal areas from Cape Fairweather, Alaska, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Canada — an area extending more than 700 miles.
A center had warned that "significant widespread inundation of land is expected," adding that dangerous coastal flooding was possible.
In its cancellation statement, the center said that some areas were seeing just small sea level changes.
"A tsunami was generated during this event but no longer poses a threat," the center said.
After one community reported seeing just a small wave, the police in the coastal town of Cordova said they had no reports of any problems.
The Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the quake was widely felt but it received no reports of any damage.
In addition to the warning, a tsunami advisory was briefly in effect for some Alaska coastal areas to the north of the warning zone, as well as to the south of the zone, from the Washington state border to the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
A tsunami warning means an area is likely to be hit by a wave, while an advisory means there may be strong currents, but that widespread inundation is not expected to occur.