Militants Battle Malian and French Troops in Liberated Town

by ptinti

New York Times

DAKAR, Senegal — Gunfire rang out in the streets of the strategic city of Gao in northern Mali on Sunday, two weeks after French troops appeared to have chased radical Islamists out of the city, which is at the edge of the desert and is the largest population center in the north.

The gun battle between Islamist militants and a force of Malian and French troops, which continued for much of Sunday afternoon, suggested that the quick French campaign against the local Al Qaeda affiliate and its allies was not over, but had entered a new phase of guerrilla warfare.

Sunday’s attack by the Islamist fighters was the most serious escalation in the fighting since the French ended over six months of brutal Islamist occupation in Gao at the end of January. That victory came after a quick French bombing campaign and with barely a shot fired.

Continuous bursts of gunfire were heard around the police station, in the city’s center and in southern districts as French helicopters hovered overhead. Malian soldiers fought back against Islamists armed with AK-47 rifles as the streets cleared of residents. French troops were also patrolling the city, which has a population of about 86,000, including its surrounding areas.

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