Rebels still hold key town in Mali, French defense minister says

by Laura Smith-Spark and Vlad Duthiers, CNN  |  published on January 17, 2013

Islamist Rebels

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 Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tuesday.

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.

“We are facing a versatile adversary who is determined, well-equipped and well-trained,” he 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.

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