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NIONO, Mali: French troops in armoured vehicles advanced yesterday towards a central Malian town abandoned by Islamist rebels after days of air strikes, moving cautiously for fear of guerrilla-style counterattacks by the Al Qaeda-linked fighters.
Television showed the wreckage of the Islamists’ white pick-up trucks, some mounted with heavy machine guns, lying charred and twisted among the mud-brick buildings of the village of Diabaly.
Commanders of French and Malian forces, who have set up their operations centre in the nearby town of Niono, some 300km northeast of the capital Bamako, said the whereabouts of the Islamist fighters remained unclear. “Our principal concern is that a section of the population may have joined the jihadists,” said Colonel Seydou Sogoba, head of Malian military operations.
“The war against the Islamists is not an easy one. They come in and mix with the local population,” he said. Some Islamist fighters had shaved off their beards and swapped their robes for jeans to blend in with local residents, he said. France has deployed 2,000 ground troops and its war planes have pounded rebel columns and bases for 10 days, effectively halting an Islamist advance on the riverside capital. Reuters