French claims of victory turned out to be premature as Islamist rebels counter-attacked in northern Mali’s largest city, Gao. The city saw two days of heavy fighting last weekend.
French and Malian troops cordoned off the entire city on Monday of this week.
They carried out house to house searches looking for rebels.
Thousands of French troops invaded the country in January. The French government claimed they were there to defend democracy from Islamic rebels.
In reality they are defending French imperial interests. France’s government hopes to withdraw most of its forces by the end of March, but is terrified of becoming bogged down in its own Afghanistan.
Meanwhile nearly the entire 3,000-strong minority Arab population of Timbuktu has fled since the invasion.
Mohammed Ami, who refused to leave, told the Telegraph newspaper, “I was born here. I’m not going anywhere. If I’m going to be killed, I will be killed here.”
Most of the city’s Tuareg population has also fled. Neither French troops nor the Malian government acted to halt this ethnic cleansing.
The Red Cross has found some 6,500 people who fled Kidal, Gao and Ménaka after French forces arrived.
They are surviving in the open with a few trees and wrecked vehicles for shelter, and not enough food.
They can’t cross the closed border into Niger.
The British military has supplied a Sentinel spy plane and the 70 troops required to support the French intervention.
Two C17 transport aircraft are already deployed.
David Cameron says further British troops will be sent to train Malian forces.