French-led troops retake Gao

 

Mali

Malian troops hunted house-to-house in Gao today for Islamist insurgents whose attack inside the northern town at the weekend showed the risk that French forces might become entangled in a messy guerrilla war.

Sneaking across the Niger River under cover of darkness, the al-Qa'ida-allied rebels fought Malian and French troops in the streets of the ancient Saharan trading town yesterday, retaken from the Islamists two weeks ago.

Malian Defence Minister Yamoussa Camara said three of the Islamist raiders were killed and 11 taken prisoner, while some Malian soldiers were wounded in the street fighting.

The brazenness of the rebel raid, which followed successive blasts by two suicide bombers at a northern checkpoint, was a surprise to the French-led military operation in Mali which had so far faced little real resistance from the Islamists.

"They took advantage of the two suicide attacks on Saturday and Sunday to infiltrate the town," Camara told a news conference in Bamako. "With young people desperate over their future, it is possible to take them and indoctrine them to the point of sacrificing their own lives."

A doctor in Gao's hospital, Noulaye Djiteyi, said three civilians were killed and 11 wounded. The casualties were hit by stray bullets in the gunbattle.

The attack indicated that the French forces, which number 4,000 soldiers on the ground, were vulnerable to hit-and-run attacks by the jihadists to the rear of their forward lines.

French and Malian officials in Gao said the risks of infiltration, shootings and bomb blasts remained high.

"The Malians are checking house-by-house, block-by-block," a French officer, who asked not to be named, told reporters.

French and Malian soldiers in armoured vehicles reinforced locations and sandbagged road checkpoints at the entrances to the town, alert for further attacks from bands of Islamist insurgents reported hiding in the surrounding desert scrub.

France intervened in Mali last month as Islamist forces, who had seized control of the north in the confusion following a military coup in March 2012, advanced on the capital Bamako.

That had pushed Mali to the forefront of US and European security concerns, with fears the Islamists would turn the country into a base for international attacks.

French leaders have said they intend to start pulling troops out of Mali in March, and want to hand over security operations to a larger, 8,000-strong African military force currently still being assembled and drawn mostly from West African states.

But this African contingent is still struggling to deploy in positions behind the French, raising the risk that Paris' forces could face "mission creep" and be obliged to stay on longer to guarantee security in the face of rebel guerrilla tactics.

"There is no doubt that the Islamists will find weak spots," Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, told Reuters.

"Now it becomes all complex and messy," he added.

President Francois Hollande acknowledged that France's military still had more work to do before it achieved its aim of ousting the al Qaeda-linked groups from all of northern Mali.

"We have not finished our task," Hollande said in Paris, after meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. "There is a risk of either attacks or guerilla tactics so we need to continue to securitise all of Mali's territory."

Gao's main market was bustling on Monday but crowds gathered to look at the wrecked police station building where the jihadist raiders, some on motorbikes, firing AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, fought French and Malian troops.

Witnesses said bodies still lay in the dusty streets, some apparently rebels, others civilians caught by stray bullets.

"I passed by the police station and I saw shredded corpses inside. There are three victims from stray bullets," local resident Ibrahim Toure told Reuters.

After driving the bulk of the insurgents from northern towns such as Timbuktu and Gao, France has been focusing its operations on Mali's remote northeast mountains, where French special forces and Chadian troops are hunting rebel bases.

They believe the rebels are holding at least seven French hostages, previously seized in the Sahel, in hideouts in the Adrar des Ifoghas range that straddles the Mali-Algeria border.

Reuters

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape