France says Mali operation will be swift

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says military operation in its former colony will be completed within weeks.
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2013 12:09
Four French Rafale fighter jets bombed targets on Sunday near the northern Malian city of Gao [AFP]

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that France's military operation in Mali would not be a long one.

"Stopping the terrorists - it's done," Fabius said on Sunday. "Today we started taking care of the terrorists' rear bases."


More about the conflict in Mali:

  Mali Live Blog
  Making sense of Mali's armed groups
    In pictures: The 'gentle' face of al-Qaeda
    In pictures: The displaced in Mali
    Explainer: Tuareg-led rebellion in north Mali
    Timeline: Mali since independence

Asked how long France would take a leading role in the conflict, he replied "it is a question of weeks".

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

In the third day of the French intervention on Sunday, Rafale fighter planes struck bases used by al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Gao, the main city in northern Mali.

Their warplanes also attacked rebel stockpiles of munitions and fuel further north at Afhabo, 50km from Kidal, a regional security source said. The area is a stronghold of Ansar al Din (Defenders of Faith).

And they hit a base further east at Lere, near the border with Mauritania, according to witnesses and a statement from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Algeria on Sunday granted France permission to fly through its airspace to reach its targets, Fabius added. Until now, Algiers has been hostile to any foreign intervention in Mali.

'Good job'

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

Residents in Gao, which has been under the control of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said 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," said one local official, who also asked not to be named. "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.

Residents of Timbuktu, which has seen some of the worst abuses by religious extremists over the past 10 months, said they were eager for French jets to arrive.

In France itself, authorities were on high alert over fears of a backlash on home soil.

French President Francois Hollande will hold a cabinet meeting devoted to the Mali crisis on Monday morning, his office announced.

And at the request of Paris, the UN Security Council will meet later on Monday to discuss the conflict, a spokesman for France's UN mission said.

Aides to Hollande described 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 loss.


Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts - and the homeless - beg to differ.
3D printers can cheaply construct homes and could soon be deployed to help victims of catastrophe rebuild their lives.
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
Booming global trade in 50-million-year-old amber stones is lucrative, controversial, and extremely dangerous.
Legendary Native-American High Bird was trained in ancient warrior traditions, which he employed in World War II.
Hounded opposition figure says he's hoping for the best at sodomy appeal but prepared to return to prison.
Fears of rising Islamophobia and racial profiling after two soldiers killed in separate incidents.
Group's culture of summary justice is back in Northern Ireland's spotlight after new sexual assault accusations.