French troops have moved into two critical towns in northern Mali, wrestling them away from Islamist militants, France’s defense minister said Monday.
Before that, Malian troops had moved into the town of Diabaly, which was overrun by Islamist militants a week ago, and the town of Douentza, on Monday, reported Reuters.
“This advance by Mali’s army into towns held by their enemies is a certain military success for the government in Bamako and for French forces supporting the operations,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement obtained by Reuters.
A convoy of approximately 30 armored vehicles arrived in the town, transporting some 200 French and Malian troops, reported Al-Arabiya. They were met with no resistance.
Residents told the network that some of the militants—who mainly belong to al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch and aligned militant groups—disguised themselves to blend in with the local population and avoid being captured or killed, according to Reuters.
Despite the gains, the French defense minister, who also termed the operation as a “total reconquest” of Mali, warned that there may be mines and traps nearby.
France has sent around 2,000 ground troops and has used airstrikes to soften up the rebels’ defenses. The rebels were aiming to march on the Malian capital of Bamako before France intervened more than a week ago.
The rebels in Diabaly mostly slipped away from the French and Mali forces and airstrikes.
Le Drian said Sunday that French Mirage warplanes bombed Islamist camps and logistics bases around the town of Timbuktu and Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, according to Reuters.
A local in Timbuktu told the agency that scores of rebels arrived in the historic city via convoys since Saturday.
William Spindler, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told France24 that with the fighting, there has been an increase in refugees seeking exodus from the conflict. There have been around 2,744 new refugees to arrive in neighboring countries since France intervened on Jan 10.
He said that around 147,000 refugees have poured into Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and Algeria since the rebels took over last year.
Meanwhile, Algerian Prime Minister Abdumalik Salal said Monday that around three dozen “terrorists” who contributed to the hostage crisis in the southern part of Algeria were from northern Mali, reported Al-Arabiya.
Salal said that the group carried out the hostage situation to apply pressure on French and Malian troops fighting in Mali. Around 37 hostages, coming from eight different countries, were killed by the militants. The situation of five more hostages is unclear, he said.
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