| USWorld

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

French prepare to battle Islamists in Mali

Email Newsletters

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

By The Washington Post
Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 8:40 p.m.

BAMAKO, Mali— French troops surrounded the desert village of Diabaly in central Mali on Wednesday, the first direct engagement since France began a military assault last week to oust radical Islamists who have advanced to within 250 miles of the capital.

The escalation set the stage for a perilous ground conflict. In waging ground combat, France is entering the comfort zone of the rebels, who know the desert terrain and are veterans of guerrilla warfare. They have melded into the local population, occupied houses and are hiding in mango groves to stage ambushes, residents said by telephone.

“The jihadists are mixing with the people, moving around in small groups of five,” said Salif Ouedraogo, an aid worker. “They are preventing people from leaving Diabaly. They want to use the people as human shields.”

What began as a campaign of aerial assaults appears to be expanding into a ground war, raising questions about France's military capability and political will to defeat the Islamists, a meld of al-Qaida militants, religious zealots and criminals who seized a Texas-sized territory in northern Mali in March.

While French forces have had experience combating guerrillas recently in Afghanistan, they have not played the lead role in a counter-insurgency campaign since its colonial days.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read World

  1. Pope’s message received warmly as he arrives in Kenya
  2. Bus carrying presidential guard targeted by bomber in Tunisia
  3. Russia’s crackdown in predominantly Muslim region fuels exodus to ISIS
  4. Moscow deploys ground-to-air missiles in Syria
  5. Brazil power brokers arrested on suspicion of blocking probe
  6. French lawmakers vote to continue airstrikes against Islamic State
  7. Sandra sets record as latest hurricane in eastern Pacific
  8. Noncombat deadly for military civilians working in Afghanistan
  9. Palestinian artist who appealed blasphemy sentence of 800 lashes, prison sentenced to execution
  10. Year’s worth of rain floods Qatar
  11. Turkey shoots down Russian jet it says violated its airspace