A town on Mali’s frontline switches back and forth

by ptinti

CS Monitor

The recent history of Diabaly calls into question the quality of the Malian troops that are needed to hold on to such areas cleared by the French military intervention.

NIONO, MALI: In a potential breakthrough for the fledgling campaign to drive Islamist rebels from their strongholds in Mali, French and Malian troops are poised to secure the town of Diabaly amid reports that rebel forces have abandoned the town.

The news comes in the wake of a virtual information blockade out of the city. Despite reports earlier this week suggesting heavy fighting between French ground troops and rebels who had embedded themselves within the population, Diabaly residents say it was French airpower, not boots on the ground, that proved a decisive factor.

Residents on Friday expressed concern about the delay in ground forces arriving to secure the town. The recent history of Diabaly also calls into question the quality of the Malian troops that are needed to hold on to such areas cleared by the French military intervention.

In less tenuous times, Diabaly was a nondescript hamlet in a part of Mali that aspired to be an agricultural oasis in the scorching climate of Africa’sSahel. But the town of 35,000 took on a strategic significance when Islamist rebels took control just days after the French began bombing various locations in central and northern Mali. With Diabaly’s fall, rebel forces had advanced to just 270 miles from the capital and France scrambled troops northward.

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