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French Forces Moving on Timbuktu in Northern Mali

Via Reuters:
French and Malian troops were restoring government control over the fabled Saharan trading town of Timbuktu on Sunday, the latest gain in a fast-moving French-led offensive against al Qaeda-allied fighters occupying northern Mali. The Islamist militant rebels have pulled back northwards to avoid relentless French air strikes that have destroyed their bases, vehicles and weapons, allowing French and Malian troops to advance rapidly with air support and armored vehicles. A Malian military source said the French and Malian forces reached “the gates of Timbuktu” late on Saturday without meeting resistance from the Islamist insurgents who had held the town since last year. The French and Malians controlled the airport and were working on securing the town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and labyrinth of ancient mosques and monuments and mud-brick homes, ready to flush out any Islamist fighters still hiding. “Timbuktu is delicate, you can’t just go in like that,” the source, who asked not to be named, said. . .

This doesn't mean the "war" is over, however. The BBC's Andrew Harding reports: "Here, for what it is worth, is my sense of where things might be going. Mali's humiliated army will be itching to march into Timbuktu - on Saturday if possible. But the French will be anxious to slow them down, waiting for West African troop reinforcements to arrive in central Mali in the next week or so. [. . .] There are other reasons for slowing the pace." Mali's ill-disciplined army is already being accused of summary executions and rapes - justifying my friend Boubou's fears of reprisals against Tuaregs. The original international plan had always called for a long military build-up to give European soldiers a chance to retrain the Malians and hopefully minimise human rights abuses by them against civilians. That plan is in tatters now, but a training programme is being accelerated. - Greg Pollowitz

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