Page 2 of 2
French airstrikes targeted the Islamic extremists' desert bases and fuel depots in northern Mali overnight.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France-Inter radio Monday that the strikes hit the Kidal region, near the border with Algeria, for the second night in a row. The extremists "cannot stay there a long time unless they have ways to get new supplies," he said.
French Mirage and Rafale planes also pounded extremist training camps as well as arms and fuel depots from Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday, north of the town of Kidal and in the Tessalit region.
The French intervened in Mali on Jan. 11 to stem the advance of the al-Qaida-linked fighters, who had taken over the country's north, enforced harsh rules on the population and plotted a terrorist attack in neighboring Algeria. The French troops arrived when the Islamic extremists threatened to move farther south.
After pushing extremists out of key northern cities, France is now pushing to hand over control of those sites to African forces from a United Nations-authorized force made up of thousands of troops from nearby countries.
"In the cities that we are holding we want to be quickly replaced by the African forces," Fabius said Monday.
Asked whether the French could pull out of the fabled city of Timbuktu and hand it to African forces as soon as Tuesday, Fabius responded, "Yes, it could happen very fast. We are working on it because our vocation is not to stay in the long term."
But it is far from clear that the African forces — much less the weak Malian army —are ready for the withdrawal of thousands of French troops, fighter planes and helicopters which would give the Africans full responsibility against the Islamic extremists, who may strike the cities from their desert hideouts.