Saturday, January 26, 2013

The French Move North

The French didn't need a month to build up sufficient logistics to extend their forces out to Gao, nor did they need that bridge the jihadis blew so they could bring Chadian troops north for a second pincer to capture Gao.

The French could fly in supplies direct to Gao now:

French forces in Mali have seized the airport and the bridge over the Niger River at the Islamist rebel-held stronghold of Gao, the French Defence Ministry said on Saturday.

Now we're getting somewhere. As long as the jihadis won't stand and fight, the French might as well pursue. Will the jihadis make a stand there or flee north and west?

They will likely pull back once the jihadis decide to dig in somewhere, in order to bring up African and Mali troops to go in after the French soften up the jihadis with smart bombs. That would fit with the very cautious approach to Diabaly that the French employed in their first ground mission.

UPDATE: The jihadis did not fight for Gao:

French officials say French-backed Malian forces have recaptured the strategic city of Gao, an Islamist militant stronghold in the country's north.

The French defense ministry said Saturday that a contingent of troops from Nigeria and Chad was moving into the city to help maintain stability.

Blowing the bridge didn't stop the Chad troops from moving north. I wonder whether "Nigerian" (from Nigeria) should be "Nigerien" (from Niger), since the Chad forces were paired with Niger troops? Or is it accurate and the Nigerian troops are following the main French/Mali advance up from Mopti?

So where did the jihadis go?

UPDATE: Never mind:

[In] Paris, a defense ministry official clarified that the city had not been fully liberated, and that the process of freeing Gao was continuing.

The jihadis are still there, it seems. There could still be a fight.

UPDATE: French and Mali troops are also outside of Timbuktu:

The French and Malians had not so far encountered any resistance from the rebels at Timbuktu.

The source said the advancing troops had paused outside to prepare a strategy for entering the town[.]

I can't imagine the French have even a full battalion in each column. Nor can I imagine the Mali troops are that effective. But if the jihadis are shaky from recent reverses, push them out of the cities while you can. Jihadis wandering around the semi-deserts are less of a problem, no>

UPDATE: The French are leading the Mali troops into Timbuktu, it seems:

French and Malian troops were on Sunday restoring government control over the fabled Saharan trading town of Timbuktu, the latest gain in a fast-moving French-led offensive against al Qaeda-allied fighters occupying northern Mali.

It would help if Niger, Algeria, and Mauritania are vigilant about watching their borders in case the jihadis try to avoid a last stand in Kidal and want to live to jihad another day--perhaps back in Libya where government control is weak.

The French are moving as fast as they can, as I wanted. Is there also an outreach to the Tuaregs to get a majority to accept autonomy as the price for joining the fight against the jihadis (foreign and local)?

UPDATE: As at Gao, the French grabbed the airport and approaches to the city. They are waiting for Mali troops to enter Timbuktu:

Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of Timbuktu's airport and the roads leading to the town in an overnight operation, a French military official said Monday. It marked the latest success in the two-week-old French mission to oust radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali, which they seized more than nine months ago.

French Col. Thierry Burkhard, the chief military spokesman in Paris, said Monday that the town's airport was taken without firing a shot.

"There was an operation on Timbuktu last night that allowed us to control access to the town," he said Monday. "It's up to Malian forces to retake the town."

Jihadis have proven they are ready to fight the enemy without mercy, as the city's mayor related:

"They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people."

Death to history.

These are barbarians we fight. Kill them where we find them. Or should we be discussing compromise so they only burn some ancient texts? Or lop off only a couple digits rather than an entire hand? Or use softer whips to punish the crime of a girl talking to a male in public?