Ninemsn – Jan 13, 2013
“There were (air strikes) last night, there are now and there will be today and tomorrow,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in televised remarks on Sunday.
“Our intervention is ongoing and we will continue in order to make (Islamist fighters) retreat and allow Malian and African forces to go forward and re-establish the territorial integrity of the country.”
The first troops promised by African nations were expected in Mali on Sunday to join the campaign.
Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal on Saturday each pledged 500 troops for an African-led intervention force.
Also on Sunday a security source said a lieutenant of Ansar Dine chief Iyad Ag Ghaly was killed in fighting to recapture the central town of Konna from the rebels.
“The Islamist fighters suffered a real setback with the death of Abdel ‘Kojak’ Krim,” the source said.
On Saturday French troops arrived in the capital Bamako, flying in from bases in Ivory Coast and Chad, a Malian officer told AFP.
Colonel Paul Geze, the French mission’s commander, told Mali’s ORTM television he hoped their mission would succeed “as quickly as possible, in the best conditions possible”.
ORTM said the French contingent would be at full strength by Monday. It has been deployed in the capital to protect the 6000-strong expatriate community.
Both France and Mali on Saturday hailed the success of their joint operation to push back an advance by the Islamists who control the north of the country.
Since taking power in the north last year, the Islamists have destroyed centuries-old Muslim mausoleums they see as heretical and imposed an extreme form of Islamic law including floggings, amputations and sometimes executions.
“Our foes have suffered heavy losses,” French President Francois Hollande said, stressing that the French intervention had “only one goal, which is the fight against terrorism”.
A statement issued late on Saturday from Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore said 11 of their soldiers had died and about 60 had been wounded in the fighting.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French Mirage fighters had carried out a second day of air strikes Saturday to stop columns of Islamist fighters from driving south.
A French pilot carrying out air raids had been killed, he added. But the Islamists reportedly suffered heavy losses.
A Malian officer in the central town of Mopti, near the front line, said dozens, possibly as many as a hundred Islamists had been killed in Konna, which was recaptured on Friday.