NIONO, A unit of French and Malian armed forces with carriers and supply trucks geared north into the central Malian town of Diabaly early on Monday after the control of Islamist rebels abated, security sources said.
Diabaly, 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital Bamako, had harboured the main cluster of rebels south of the front-line towns of Mopti and Sevare until French airstrikes forced them to flee or attempt to blend in with locals, residents said.
The Malian Army was unable to usurp the area single handedly, which prompted France to mobilize more than 2,000 troops on the ground and to call for West African nations to accelerate troop deployments to Mali. Islamist rebels gained control of the town – just 270 miles from the capital city of Bamako – only days after France intervened Jan. 11 to stem an ambitious rebel push southward to the town of Konna, in central Mali. Diabaly, with its relative proximity to Bamako, has since come to be viewed as a second frontline of a conflict that was originally envisioned as a limited air campaign to support Malian troops.
“French and Malian forces have advanced to Diabaly and they will continue their mission of securing the town,” the deputy commander of Malian forces in nearby Niono, who gave his name only as Captain Samasa, told Reuters. Another security source confirmed the information on condition of anonymity.