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In Mali, France aims for 'total reconquest'

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 7:40 p.m.

BAMAKO, Mali — France's military goal in Mali is “total reconquest,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday.

“We will not leave any pockets” of resistance, he told French television.

France has sent 2,000 troops to help Malian forces fight Islamists who have been in control of the northern half of the country.

Le Drian said the former Islamist stronghold of Diabaly had not yet been retaken, even though the militants withdrew from the town two days ago.

Backed by French airstrikes, Malian forces appeared close to recapturing the key central town of 35,000, which hosts an important military camp. Al-Qaida-linked jihadists moved into Diabaly last week.

“Right now, the town of Diabaly is not retaken,” Le Drian told France-5 TV. “(But) everything leads us to believe Diabaly is going to head in the positive direction in the coming hours.”

The French military said late Sunday on its website that fighter planes and helicopter gunships had carried out a dozen operations in the previous 24 hours — half of them to strike “terrorist vehicles.”

Malian officials said the Islamists left Diabaly on Friday.

However, the Malian military suspects the fighters are hiding in a nearby forest, the BBC reported.

“The situation in the vicinity of Diabaly is confused for the moment,” a French colonel told the BBC.

A senior Malian military figure cautioned that parts of Diabaly's population were sympathetic to the Islamists, and this made their task difficult.

The zone around Diabaly remains blocked off by a military cordon.

Video obtained by The Associated Press from Diabaly on Saturday showed burned-out vehicles, scattered bullets and several armored vehicles belonging to the Malian army lying abandoned and damaged along roadsides.

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