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August 1, 2021

‘Many deaths’ as Malians, joined by French, try to beat back Islamist militants

Mali is being joined by France – its former colonial ruler, which recently sent troops there – as it tries to beat back advances by forces linked to al Qaeda, CNN reports. Much action recently has focused in and around the key northern city of Konna, which insurgents took on Thursday only to retreat the following day after a combined air and ground assault. “There were many deaths on both sides, both rebels and government soldiers,” Malian defense ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Diara Kone said Saturday of the fighting in the northern part of the country. The government, in a statement read on state TV, said 11 of its soldiers died and about 60 were wounded in the battle for Konna. The French pilot died while taking part Friday afternoon in an aerial operation targeting a terrorist group moving on the town of Mopti, near Konna, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. The aerial offensive – which includes strikes by French fighter jets – continued through Friday night and into Saturday, the minister added.French President Francois Hollande also cheered after “a blow was delivered and heavy losses were inflicted,” which he credited in part to the efforts of his nation’s troops. “But our mission is not over,” he said Saturday. Hollande said the influx of troops from his nation and others is to “allow Mali to recover its territorial integrity in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.” “France, in this operation, is not pursuing any interest … other than safeguarding a friendly country, and (France) does not have any goal other than fighting against terrorism,” the French president said Saturday. “That is why its action is supported by the international community and saluted by all African countries.”Though its troops are posted in locations around Africa, French leaders earlier said they wouldn’t send combat troops to Mali and that they’d scale back France’s military interventions on the continent. So its decision to get involved in Mali, an operation Hollande said “will last as long as necessary,” underlies the seriousness of France’s concern about the situation there. French hostages have been taken in neighboring Niger by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Paris appears intent on containing any further militant expansion in the heart of Africa.Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore declared a state of emergency nationwide Friday and called for “a general mobilization” to defend against the radical Islamists’ advance. “Terrorist groups want to destabilize the country,” the French minister said. “We are determined to prevent them doing so, within the strict framework of international law.”

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