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As French forces hit rebels in Mali, Paris wants to avoid Europe's Afghanistan (+video)

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"French Army forces supported Malian units this afternoon to fight against terrorist elements," added Mr. Hollande. "We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening Mali's very existence. France cannot accept this."

Konna is a small town just south of the de facto frontier between the Islamist-occupied north and the government held-south. While it is of minimal
strategic significance, many analysts view its capture as a troubling indicator of the broader ambitions of the Islamist rebels and the state of the Malian
Army.

“If the Islamists take over this region it would be a major, major blow to an already very weakened Mali,”said Rudy Atallah, who has extensive experience in the region and served as Africa Counterterrorism director in the office of the US Secretary of Defense. "Sévaré is home of the 62nd Motorized Regiment of the 6th Military Region. It is also home to Mali's elite fighting force."

Some 6,000 French live in Mali, and seven are now held captive by the rebels.

Warnings have been swirling

Warnings of a rebel attack on central Mali have been swirling for days. But despite local and regional media outlets reporting large convoys of Islamist fighters
heading south, many residents in Sévaré dismissed the reports as rumor.

“We felt safe because we hear these stories a lot but it is always nothing,” said Oumaru Guindo, a resident of Sévaré. “The Army told us they had killed the
terrorists in Konna and liberated Douentza,” he continued, “but when we saw many Malian soldiers returning and heard that many people were wounded, it was
clear what really happened and we knew they [the rebels] had taken Konna.”

What was clear to Mr. Guindo on Thursday afternoon was confirmed by several media outlets hours later, even as the Malian Army insisted that they had repelled the rebel advance.

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