BAMAKO, Mali – French fighter jets bombed rebel targets in a major city in Mali’s north Sunday, pounding the airport as well as training camps, warehouses and buildings used by the al-Qaida-linked Islamists controlling the area, officials and residents said.
The three-day-old French-led effort to take back Mali’s north from the extremists began with airstrikes by combat helicopters in the small town of Konna. It has grown to a coordinated attack by fighter jets which have bombarded at least five towns, of which Gao, which was attacked Sunday afternoon, is the largest.
More than 400 French troops have been deployed to the country in the all-out effort to win back the territory from the well-armed rebels, who seized control of an area larger than France nine months ago. What began as a French offensive has now grown to include seven other countries.
The United States is providing communications and transport help, while Britain is sending aircrafts to help Mali’s allies transport troops to the front lines.
French President Francois Hollande authorized the intervention after it became clear the swiftly advancing rebels could break Mali’s military defenses in Mopti, the first town on the government-controlled side, located in the center of this African country.
The Islamists are armed with weapons stolen from the abandoned arsenal of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The fighters managed to seize the territory in the north after a military coup led to political turmoil in the once-stable nation of 15.8 million last March.