Mali: French army secures key bridge

2013-01-16 13:32
French forces were involved in an attack aimed at repelling al-Qaeda-linked radicals pushing south towards the capital Bamako. (Pascal Guyot, AFP)

French forces were involved in an attack aimed at repelling al-Qaeda-linked radicals pushing south towards the capital Bamako. (Pascal Guyot, AFP)

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Markala - French troops on Wednesday secured a strategic bridge along the Niger river in western Mali, to block the advance of Islamist fighters south towards the capital Bamako.

"Our mission is to hold this bridge to prevent the enemy from accessing the south," Colonel Frederic of the 21st marine infantry regiment from Chad told AFP.

A military source said the Islamists were at least 80km north of Markala, putting them only 200km from Bamako.

The contingent of about 100 troops are travelling in about 20 vehicles which left Bamako airport on Tuesday to relieve French special forces soldiers who have been in place since last week, along with a few Malian soldiers.

The French forces have launched their first ground offensive since their air assault on the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists occupying Mali's north began on 11 January, to prevent the insurgents from advancing on the capital.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the 800 troops already deployed in Mali faced a long and tough battle against determined fighters whose number he estimated at up to 1 300.

"It's a little more difficult in the west, where we have the toughest, most fanatical and best-organised groups. It's under way there but it's difficult," he said.

Read more on:    france  |  mali  |  west africa
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