France action in Mali is real war, says Le Drian


People displaced by militant rebels are "trickling back" towards Timbuktu

French forces are embroiled in a "real war" with "terrorists" around the Malian town of Gao, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.

Islamist militants were swept from Gao last month, but Mr Le Drian said clashes were continuing in the area.

French forces were deployed nearly a month ago to combat al-Qaeda-linked militants who had taken over Mali's desert northern regions.

Paris says it wants to begin pulling out its 4,000 troops in March.

"The president confirmed this morning that if everything goes to plan, the number of French troops in Mali will begin to fall from the month of March," a government spokeswoman said.

The Mali militants have been routed and cleared from most of the population centres.


Phase one of the French mission in Mali is over, and it has been a success. The main population centres have been secured and the Islamists put to flight. Local people, and African governments, are full of praise for what the French have done.

It is a moment of satisfaction, but the French would be well advised not to let it go to their heads. What follows may be more testing.

Already it is clear there is what the defence minister calls "residual" resistance around towns like Gao. Then there is the task of clearing out the inaccessible Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where the toughest of the Islamists have taken refuge, probably with French hostages. And beyond that questions are bound to be asked about the capacity of Malian and African troops to take over when the French leave.

The French want to start pulling out troops in March. But if the campaign morphs into a new kind of conflict, they may have to think again.

But clashes are continuing away from the towns.

"When you leave the centre of captured cities, you meet jihadis left behind," Mr Le Drian told France's Europe 1 Radio.

He said Islamist fighters had used rockets in battles with the French and Malian troops on Tuesday.

He had earlier said that hundreds of militants had been killed in the month-long operation.

When asked about the deaths, he replied: "This is a real war with significant losses but I'm not going to get into an accounting exercise."

One French servicemen has died since the conflict began in early January.

The BBC's Mamadou Moussa Ba in Gao says heavy bombardment could be heard in the centre of the city on Tuesday, with a French helicopter patrolling.

He says it seems the French intervened after militants tried to launch a rocket attack on a Malian military camp.

Eyewitnesses said French and African troops had left their military base in Gao on Wednesday morning and were heading towards the town of Ansongo, towards the border with Niger, our correspondent adds.

Vast desert

Earlier this week, French forces accompanied by hundreds of troops from Chad cleared fighters from the last rebel stronghold, the town of Kidal.

Mr Le Drian also insisted that the 4,000 French troops currently deployed would be the maximum number in Mali.

Key players

  • The government: President Dioncounda Traore installed after military coup in early 2012; he asked France for military help in January amid a rebel onslaught
  • The Islamist militants: Swept through northern Mali in 2012 taking control of towns and cities and installing Sharia; since forced to flee by French forces
  • The Tuareg rebels: Inflicted a series of defeats on government soldiers in early 2012; occasionally allied to Islamists, but support French intervention

Islamist rebels overran towns in Mali's north, and were threatening to overthrow the government in a rapid advance last year.

The crisis has since been complicated by splits in the main Islamist militant groups.

There is also an overlapping rebellion by Tuareg, who want either independence or autonomy.

The government is weak and unable to control the north, where tiny towns punctuate a vast desert.

Officials from the UN, EU, African Union, the World Bank and dozens of nations have met in Brussels to discuss Mali's future.

They are considering how elections can be held in July, as well as the financing of an international military force and humanitarian assistance.

Map of Mali showing the areas previously under rebel control

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  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    A sea of sand where supplies from outside must be crucial. Bordering countries will need a co-ordinated approach to this, otherwise the insurgents will escape across borders and return when the French have left . Even then, this is such a vast empty area it can probably only be monitored effectively from the air or space, which would require continued European or US support.

  • Comment number 424.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    A lot of comments here imply that WE are the reason the Jihadists fight. This is masochism.
    All it takes for the immunity of our emissaries to be violated, our embassies razed, is for a Copenhagen newspaper to publish cartoons. That is the threshold now.
    No one attempts an assassination of an 15-year old schoolgirl to fight neo-colonialism. They do it because they believe it is their sacred duty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    I grew up in an era when the cold war started, apartheid was running high, nuclear weapons produced at increasing numbers, the Ulster Peace was impossible and the World seemed a dangerous hostile place with a tecnologically creating a more dangerous future just around the corner. As I view history, war is normal, and you better be prepared for it -- as sad as that might be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.


    "Just as Britain's colonising of northern half of irish republic will soon become undone, and within 20 years, britain's tyrannical hold of the malvinas will soon become undone."

    Firstly, Northern Ireland is not a colony, its part of the United Kingdom. Secondly, the Falklands are a self-governing territory so please explain what is "tyrannical" about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Napoleon & WWII were not aggressive wars. They brought war to us.both declared war"

    Wrong. Britain declared war in both cases. Britain along with other "ancien regime" states did (unsuccessfully) fight aggressive wars against the French revolution. Napoleon was then consolidating his position and "freeing" the citizens of Europe from their "tyrants" when Britain broke peace treaties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    Historically they alone have been considered acts of war, and can lead (or at least contribute) to full blown war!
    Prior to the UN, sanctions were considered acts of war at international law.

    USA's embargo of oil and iron to Japan during the 2nd Sino/Japanese is accepted as a prime provocation prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbour

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    406. Trout Mask Replica

    Not through distillation they didn't.


    Not so i'm afraid. Both the Greeks and the Chinese were distilling alcohol around the 1st and 2nd centuries. Furthermore there is no evidence that the Arabs were using distillation to produce alcohol. They in fact learned the process from the Alexandrians 1000 years later.

  • Comment number 417.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 416.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    I wonder if the extremists used Western fascist tactics to suppress the population, for example:
    - "Go read the Daily Mail!" (said by indoctrinated robotic sheep to suppress the debate).
    - "Here comes the Tory troll", to categorize wiser people into one bigots do.
    - A propaganda drive to make the whole nation institutionally-bigoted (Nazi-style) to Malians who went to private school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    Hats off to the French troops and the French government for taking action in the first place. It now needs a strong Malian government to act decisively and not let the situation deteriorate again when the foreign troops leave. Sadly they may need some more help for some time to achieve that otherwise the rebels/terrorists will come back out of the woodwork when the a coast is clear!

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    35. "Shame on the Politicians everywhere."
    If your stance had been taken, Slobodan Milosevic would be ruling over an ethnically cleansed Greater Serbia, the people of Iraq and Kuwait would be the private property o a psychopathic despotic crime-family and the people of Afghanistan would be suffering under the rule of the Taliban.
    If I were you, I would avoid trying to take the moral high ground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    The UK's & Frances colonial age ended long ago the colonial powers now are China in Tibet invasion 1950. Uk's & Frances overseas terrorities & departments are part of those nations because they want to be. As for Mali the Malian people want these jihadists loons out of their land apparently the British army are training the Malian army to keep them out when the French leave and the jobs a good un

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    U.S. armed drones will easily attack Assad's Forces or Terror Activists with Al Qada-Mali. Drone aircraft are launched by most Navy vessels or from air fields as Incirlik, Turkey. Drones deploy rockets that could be loaded with a high explosives (similar to nuclear material).

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    Regarding the Uranium issue - France does have a vested interest in maintaining stability in the region as Uranium supplies from Niger could easily be affected by instability . Do not believe for one moment that the French are in Mali for altruistic reasons - the French have always attempted to maintain a foothold in "L'Afrique Noire" - however, most Malians do seem happy that the French are there

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    Where did I put those shares in Manufacture d'armes de Saint-√Čtienne?

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    394. BujuB

    alcohol is an arabic word
    so is anything that starts with al-

    The word maybe derived from a Latinized medieval word al-kuhl, meaning any substance derived thru distillation but Islam didnt invent it itself. Just what is your point anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    I remember George Bush Jr annoucing the same in Iraq.

    Politicians should really try to think 10, 20, 50, 100 years ahead at potential consquences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    "The Bloke
    Yes, because the Europeans never had alcohol before the arabs."

    Not through distillation they didn't. What about the rest of my (very inexhaustive) list of Arab contributions to modern science? The idea they made no meaningful contribution or that we did it all ourselves independently is a much better example of "repeating this old trope" to sustain nonsensical racist prejudices.


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