French bomb training camps, depots in northern Mali
Militants reported hiding in mountains after losing ground
Posted: Feb 3, 2013 11:28 AM ET
Last Updated: Feb 3, 2013 3:33 PM ET
French warplanes bombed the north of Mali again on Sunday as part of an offensive to drive the last remaining Islamist extremists out of the region.
Military sources reported the latest push to oust remaining al-Qaeda-linked fighters who have occupied areas of the north for the past 10 months. French planes targetted Islamic militant training camps and arms depots around Kidal and Tessalit in the northern region.
"It was an important aerial operation to the north of the town Kidal and in the Tessalit region where we targeted logistical depots and Islamist training camps...some 20 sites," said French army Col. Thierry Burkhard, adding that there were 30 planes used in the operation.
So far, French and Malian troops have ousted militants from communities that include Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao.
However, those soldiers are still working to secure their hold on those areas. On Sunday, a French army convoy of more than 60 vehicles, many of them armoured, headed carefully toward Gao, a journey that was expected to take a total of 12 hours.
The vehicles leading the way were scanning the roads for buried explosive devices, while helicopter gunships were on standby, ready to provide backup, the CBC's David Common reported from Mali.
The logistics convoy carrying food, fuel and spare parts for the French military 1,300 kilometres over ground from Bamako to Gao consists of 15-days of supplies.
Elsewhere, a spokesman for the French army told Reuters on Sunday that French warplanes carried out bombing raids to the north of the desert town of Kidal overnight.
Thierry Burkhard told the agency the raids took place close to the Algerian border near the settlement of Tessalit, one of the main gateways into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where the rebels are believed to be hiding after fleeing major towns.
The push to secure territory captured since France began its military mission in the former French colony on Jan. 11 continued a day after French President Francois Hollande visited the country.
"He received something akin to a hero's welcome," Common said. "And it must be said that as we rumble along here in this long convoy, there are mud huts and people are running up to these armoured vehicles and yelling, "Vive la France."
Despite the outpouring of joy from Malians who say the Islamists violently oppressed them under sharia law, many have expressed worry about France's long-term intentions.
In his speech, Hollande made it clear that France intends to hand over control of the recaptured terrain to Mali's military, and to other African troops pledged by neighbouring countries to help fight in Mali.
Mali's military has proved to be no match for the better-armed Islamic extremists, who seized a territory equal in size to France last year, after the army simply abandoned their posts.With files from The Associated Press