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Troops enter Kidal, final stronghold for rebels in Mali

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

French troops have entered Kidal, the final rebel stronghold in Mali. Islamist militants had seized control of northern Mali last year. While many of the insurgents have fled many cities before the arrival of troops, there are concerns they could hide out in the mountainous regions in the north of this African nation to plan a future offensive.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Kidal is the third and last major northern town to be retaken during the French-backed intervention against al-Qaida linked Islamist rebels. Militants had seized control of northern Mali in April after a military coup in the south that further weakened the Malian army.
 
France began aerial bombardments and ground operations in early January to help counter a surprise offensive southward by Islamist rebels.
 
For the time being, cell phone communications have been cut to Kidal. The president of Kidal's regional assembly, Haminy Belco Maiga, is in touch with the town via satellite phone.

Maiga says the French arrived Tuesday aboard four planes and some helicopters. Vehicles on the ground used their headlights to indicate the runway.

There was no fighting. Many assume this indicates that everything was previously organized in advance, alluding to prior agreement made with the MNLA, a secular Tuareg separatist group which claimed to have seized control of Kidal from the Malian-led Islamist group, Ansar Dine.
 
Maiga said the MNLA remains on the "periphery of the town" and Ansar Dine appears to have fled to surrounding villages and towns further north.
 
French troops arrived in Kidal without their Malian counterparts, in contrast to their previous liberations of other key towns. Maiga has expressed his concern that he will not consider Kidal liberated without Malian forces. Furthermore, he says there are beliefs that the French are negotiating with fighters, like the MNLA, which should be reserved for Malian authorities.

Residents hear say that many Islamist fighters had fled before the arrival of any troops. Military sources say the Islamists are believed to have dispersed, abandoning their vehicles and moving in small groups in an effort to blend in with the population.
 
There are new concerns that the remaining Islamist fighters could take refuge in the remote, mountainous parts of the far north. They could then mount guerilla-style attacks against targets in Mali and neighboring countries.
 
Military sources say the more than 6,000 troops expected to be deployed to Mali from Chad and from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS will be essential to securing and holding the vast territory.

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