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July 31, 2021
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Rebels still hold key town in Mali, French defence minister says

The campaign will continue “as long as it is necessary”.

The Islamist rebels fighting to overthrow Mali’s government are “determined, well-equipped and well-trained” and still hold a key town in the central part of that African country, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tuesday, CNN informs. French troops and warplanes joined the battle last week on the side of Malian government forces, and Le Drian said the intervention stopped the Islamists from overrunning Bamako, the capital. The Islamists, who have seized much of northern Mali, had hoped to deliver a “definitive blow” to the government by capturing the city of Mopti, he told reporters in Paris. “We prevented it,” he said. But the push has not yet driven them from the town of Konna, the scene of a fierce battle last week that weakened the Malian army, Le Drian said. France, the former colonial power in Mali, has committed about 1,700 troops and air crews to the fight, Le Drian said. The force includes about 800 troops on the ground in Mali, including an armor unit. The operation is hitting “significant concentrations of fighters and vehicles” in the north, behind the front lines, and bolstering government troops’ defense of Bamako, he said.The campaign will continue “as long as it is necessary” to defend Mali’s embattled government and allow the speedy deployment of an African-led peacekeeping mission and a European force that will train Malian troops, Le Drian said. And speaking on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, French President Francois Hollande said the number of French troops deployed would increase “so that France can make way as quickly as possible” for an African force.Hollande said France had three aims: stopping the “terrorist aggression” from the north; securing Bamako and safeguarding French nationals there; and enabling Mali to recover its territorial integrity. Defence chiefs from the members of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS were meeting Tuesday in Bamako to discuss military options, said a spokesman for the bloc, Sunny Ugoh.Ministers will meet Friday to finalize plans that will then be presented to the heads of state Saturday in Ivory Coast, he said. Leaders from a number of countries, including NATO allies the United States and Canada, have said they’ll send troops or provide logistical support for the fight against Islamist militants in the West African nation.Col. Mohammed Yerima, a spokesman for the Nigerian army, told CNN that 190 of its soldiers would arrive in Mali within 24 hours. In total, Nigeria will deploy 900 soldiers – slightly more than a full battalion – within the next 10 days, as part of a U.N.-mandated African force to fight the insurgents in Mali, he said. Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal and Benin are also among the countries that have pledged to send troops, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters Monday.Two British military transport aircraft have been assigned to help with the French troop deployment, but no British forces will be in a combat role, the UK Foreign Office said. A spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s leaders were considering offering medical, logistical and humanitarian aid to Mali. The United Nations said preparations are under way for a U.N. multidisciplinary team to go to Bamako soon.The United States has shared intelligence from satellites and intercepted signals with the French, defense officials said Monday. In addition, the Pentagon is considering sending refueling tankers so that French jets can fly longer, more sustained combat missions, according to the officials. Drones “are under consideration,” the defense officials said, though the military’s stash of unmanned aerial vehicles is in heavy demand. Both stressed that these would be surveillance drones and said there are no plans yet to deploy them.U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, meanwhile, said the United States is reviewing requests from the French, but no decisions have been made.

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