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'Stopping the terrorists - it's done,' France says of Mali

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 17th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"Stopping the terrorists - it's done," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said of operation s in the West African nation of Mali. "Today we started taking care of the terrorists' rear bases," vowing that France's military operation in Mali would not be a long one.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Asked how long France would be partaking in the conflict, Fabius replied "it is a question of weeks."

In the meantime, French warplanes have struck further north in Mali, bombing Islamist strongholds and forcing the insurgents to flee. Preparations for the African intervention force took shape in the capital.

Rafale fighter planes struck bases used by al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Gao this weekend, the main city in northern Mali.

French warplanes also attacked rebel stockpiles of munitions and fuel further north at Afhabo, 50 kilometers from Kidal. The area has long been a stronghold of Ansar al Din, whose name translates to Defenders of Faith.

Bombardments continue near the border with Mauritania, according to witnesses and a statement from Doctors Without Borders. In a move that signals even greater international cooperation, Algeria granted France permission to fly through its airspace to reach its targets. Algiers had previously been vehemently opposed to any foreign intervention in Mali.

France launched the operation alongside the Malian army to counter a push south by the insurgents who had threatened to advance on the capital Bamako last week.

In Gao, under the control of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, say the French airstrikes had leveled the Islamists' position and forced them to flee.

"We can see smoke billowing from the base. There isn't a single Islamist left in town. They have all fled," a teacher said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The French have done a good job. Nearly all the Islamists have fled Gao," one anonymous local official said. "Those who are still there are hidden in houses and are waiting nightfall to flee."

"What we need now is for the [Malian] army to come here so that the Islamists can't come back," a young student said.

Timbuktu, the scene where Islamist insurgents have destroyed many holy temples, says they are eager for French jets to arrive.

In Europe, French authorities were on high alert over fears of a backlash on home soil. French President Francois Hollande has since held a cabinet meeting devoted to the Mali crisis.

Aides have advised Hollande that the militants as better trained and armed than expected.

"What has struck us markedly is how modern their equipment is and their ability to use it," one said, referring to the rebels' hit on a French helicopter, which fatally wounded its pilot, France's only confirmed death to date in the conflict.

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