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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor