Mali troops retake strategic town
Malian forces have regained control of a strategic town that has been under extreme Islamist rule for four months, as the French-led military intervention pushed northwards in its second week.
Douentza had been the outer edge of Islamist rebel control until the militants surged southwards earlier this month. While far from the capital, Douentza is only 120 miles from Mopti, which marks the line of control held by the Malian military.
On Monday, French and Malian troops arrived in Douentza to find that the Islamists had already retreated from the town, local adviser Sali Maiga said.
A convoy of pick-up trucks carrying bearded men entered Douentza last September, and in the months that followed the Islamist extremists forced women to wear veils and enlisted children as young as 12 as soldiers in training.
The announcement that Douentza was again in government hands came on the same day that French and Malian forces again patrolled the streets of Diabaly after nearly a week of Islamist rule.
The presence of Malian soldiers in the two towns marks tangible accomplishments for the French-led mission, which began on January 11 after the rebels pushed south and seized the central Malian town of Konna. That seizure had marked the furthest south the Islamists had ventured since taking control of northern Mali's main cities following a March 2012 coup in Bamako, the capital in Mali's south.
France said there are now about 1,000 African troops in Mali to take part in the military intervention. French military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said the soldiers come from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger and Chad.
France has 2,150 forces in Mali, and said it could exceed 2,500 at full deployment in the former French colony.
It has received logistical support from Western allies and intelligence from the United States but the French ultimately hope that West African soldiers will take the lead alongside Malian troops in securing the country.
Neighbouring African countries are ultimately expected to contribute around 3,000 troops but concerns about the mission have delayed some from sending their promised troops.