Conflict & Justice

Mali: Rebels seize another town as France says campaign is going 'favorably'


A Malian man reads a newspaper reading ''Long live France!'' as he waits to donate blood, on Jan. 14, 2013, in Bamako, Mali. France is in the middle of a military campaign in Mali to drive back advancing Islamist rebels.


Issouf Sanogo

Nigeria today said it will send nearly 200 troops to Mali within the next 24 hours to shore up the French-led military campaign to oust Islamist militants there, according to the Associated Press, a pledge that comes a day after France defended the operation and rebels seized a Mali town. 

The deployment is the first wave of a 900-strong United Nations-mandated African force Nigeria is contributing to the French operation in the coming week, defense spokesman Colonel Mohammed Yerima told journalists today, reported Agence France Press.

France on Monday insisted its military campaign in Mali is "developing favorably," despite rebels capturing new ground.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Islamist insurgents had seized the town of Diabaly, in government-controlled central Mali, the BBC reported.

French airstrikes on Sunday targeted rebel positions near the town, which houses a Malian army base, according to Le Drian. Rebels responded by sending reinforcements from near the Mauritanian border to launch a counter-attack, a Malian security source told Agence France Presse.

On Monday, the European Union called an emergency foreign ministers' meeting for later this week to discuss sending a mission to train Malian troops. Ministers would also discuss possible financial and logistical support for African nations who deploy troops in support of the Malian government.

Also on Monday, the US and Germany pledged degrees of support for the French offensive in Mali. Germany offered military medical and transport assistance, Spiegel reported, while outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US may add logistical support to the intelligence-sharing it has already provided France.

So far, Le Drian told a news conference, French bombardments have blocked the rebels' advance in the east of Mali, but the situation in the west remains "difficult."

At least one French pilot, 11 Malian soldiers, more than 100 suspected rebels and 11 civilians, including three children, have been killed since France launched its military campaign on Friday.

More from GlobalPost: French forces hammer Mali with airstrikes

Some 550 French troops have been sent into Mali so far, according to France 24, while military officials say the force will reach its full strength on Monday. Most soldiers are stationed near the capital, Bamako, to protect French expatriates.

Their deployment is expected to last "a matter of weeks," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on Sunday, according to Euronews: "We have no intention of staying longer."

Islamist groups have vowed to punish France for its intervention, including with attacks on French soil.

"France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France," a spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which has ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, told AFP. He said Islamist militants would strike "everywhere. In Bamako, in Africa and in Europe."

GlobalPost's correspondent in Brussels, Paul Ames, says, "there is concern in Europe that the intervention could rally Islamist sentiment in north and west Africa and provoke a terrorist backlash." 

However, he adds, "France enjoys widespread support with many fearing the advancing Islamists could have taken hold of Mali's capital Bamako, a move that could have destabilized the wider region."

Other West African countries including Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Benin have all pledged to send troops to Mali, while the UK has promised transport planes, the BBC said. The US and Denmark have also offered logistical support.

France has called a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York later on Monday to discuss further international involvement.

Follow Paul Ames @p1ames, who contributed reporting from Brussels.