French planes were pounding areas around Kidal in northern Mali on Monday, in an effort to defeat Islamist rebels who have retreated from urban centres to mountainous areas.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the airstrikes were aimed at cutting off supply lines to the rebels. “It’s about destroying their rear bases and their storage facilities,?? he told France Inter radio.
French President Francois Hollande and U.S. Vice President, Joe Biden, were to discuss the operation in Mali later on Monday in Paris. The latest attacks, close to the border with Algeria, have also enabled Malian ground forces to move into Kidal, which is being administered by Tuareg separatists from the MNLA militia and is the only urban area not under government or French control.
France started airstrikes against the Islamists’ posts on Jan. 11 to stop the militants from advancing towards the capital, Bamako, and has some 2,500 soldiers on the ground. About 30 warplanes are being used for the campaign.
The Islamists have been forced to retreat from all their urban strongholds in northern Mali, which they captured last year and then imposed strict sharia on the population.
“Some members of armed groups were holed up in the mountains around Tikrakar,?? a Malian military official told dpa, referring to an area near Kidal.
There are concerns the rebels could regroup in the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains and again pose a threat to stability in the country.
French forces captured the airport in Kidal last week but militants launched an attack on the city on Saturday, during a visit to Mali by Hollande. African soldiers meant to back the allied Franco-Malian troops are still slow to arrive.
So far, only about 2,000 West African forces of the planned 5,700 have deployed.
Chad, a central African nation with experience in desert warfare, has sent about 1,500 soldiers