Nouakchott — Malian and French ground forces see their first combat as air strikes continue to pound terrorists in northern Mali.
Malian and French soldiers on Wednesday (January 16th) engaged in their first close-quarter combat with Islamist fighters since the start of the Mali military operation.
The coalition forces are trying to reclaim Diabaly from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters under the command of Algerian terrorist Abou Zeid, AFP reported.
As French gunships and fighter jets pounded rear bases of Ansar al-Din, Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and AQIM for the 6th straight day, the first company of African troops was expected to arrive in Mali.
The 200 soldiers are part of a Nigerian contribution that will eventually total 900. Nigeria is leading the regional force, to which Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo have also pledged numbers.
"This military intervention has received UN, European, African and local blessing," French President François Hollande said Tuesday.
"What do we plan to do with the terrorists? Destroy them. Capture them, if possible," Hollande said during his visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The French President lauded the co-operation of Maghreb countries in the conflict.
"I met with the Mauritanian president this morning in UAE. He confirmed to me that Mauritania would make the decision to take part in the war when Mali or the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded it. President Abdel Aziz has committed to closing Mauritania's border," Hollande said.
"As to the Algerian position, I thank them for it," he added. On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Algeria had authorised overflights of fighter jets bound for Mali.
Hollande also thanked Morocco for allowing France to use its airspace.
Meanwhile, Tunisia Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem on Tuesday reaffirmed the country's preference for a regional military force. "We believe that the problems arising in Africa must be resolved within an African framework," Abdessalem said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed that operations would continue over the next days to pave the way for ECOWAS forces on the ground.
Bamako, located just 400 km from the battle raging Wednesday in Diabaly, welcomed the military intervention.
"The situation today in the Malian capital is very quiet, and the people are totally relieved. They raised the flags of France in appreciation for the French forces that rescued them." Baba Ahmed, the Jeune Afrique correspondent in Bamako, told Magharebia.
Timbuktu resident Yaya Tandina said that "the first days of bombardment intimidated the population, but they returned to their normal lives after the city was not shelled".
"The Islamists are still in town, but they stopped applying the Islamic Sharia," Tadina added.
As to the humanitarian consequences of the military action, the UN said that about 150,000 refugees had been displaced, while the Red Cross reported 86 people wounded in the bombardment in Mopti and Gao.
For the Malians at the Mauritanian refugee camp near Bassiknou, the worst part of the conflict is fear for their families back home in the battle zone.
"The repercussions of the current war are very serious," Said Mohamed Ali Ag al-Mubarak, spokesperson for the Malian refugees at Camp Mbere, told Magharebia.
"The only thing we'll reap from this ongoing war is the loss of life, more devastation and a shortage of foods and medicines," he said.