Islamist terrorists escaped from important regions of northern Mali on Monday, as French fighter jets continued to pound the area. According to reports, the fighting turned violent in southern Mali after a group of Islamist militants attacked the Mauritanian border and captured the town of Diabaly.
The militants were reportedly confined to 250 miles northeast of Mali’s capital, Bamako. However, the fighting also underscored the degree to which the militants, fully armed, pose a threat to the state even after four days of bombing by French troops. France has also stationed around 500 troops in the country to strengthen the capacity of the local army.
French war planes have so far bombed Islamist militant training camps, weapons and oil storehouses. According to the French defense ministry, dozens of Islamist militants were killed in the operation. Around 11 civilians, including three children, also died during the combat.
“Mali is now at the mercy of the French army," said a well-connected Malian official in Bamako, according to The Guardian. "They are bombing the north, they have killed many terrorists. The Islamists have been running into the desert – they have deserted Gao and Timbuktu."
French President Francois Hollande has promised to continue the upsurge of French ground troops and air forces in the area. He has also said that French troops will stay in Mali as long as needed to combat the terrorists, set up a pan-African force and develop the capacity of the poorly managed Malian army to re-establish state power across the African nation.
Fighting built up in Mali after France made an unanticipated decision Friday to dispatch forces into the country, to give airborne support to Malian soldiers, and defend its citizens.
The US may become part of the operations by giving technical and logistical support to French troops combating in the Islamist militants, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Monday.
“We have a responsibility to go after al-Qaida wherever they are,” Panetta told reporters as he began a week-long trip to Europe, according to The Washington Post. “We’re going after them in Yemen and Somalia, and we have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaida does not establish a base for operations in North Africa, in Mali.”