Graphic (C) 2013 reconpresseusa
BAMAKO--French intelligence services had detected preparations for an important offensive organized and coordinated by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, known as AQIM, and its jihadist allies, Ansar Dine and MUJAO, against the towns of Mopti and Diabaly. After a large number of vehicles were spotted heading toward the strategic town on Thursday, France sent in its first unit to Sevare, a town adjacent to Mopti, to support the Malian combat forces, Le Drian said.
On Friday, French President Francois Hollande authorized the use of French air power following an appeal from Mali's president. Soon after, French pilots targeted a column of jihadist fighters who were heading down toward Mopti from Konna. He said that the helicopter raid led to the destruction of several units of fighters and stopped their advance toward the city. It was in the course of this battle, that one helicopter was downed, and a French pilot fatally wounded.
Overnight Saturday, air strikes began in the areas where the fighters operate, Le Drian said, led by French forces in Chad, where France has Mirage 2000 and Mirage F1 fighter jets stationed.
The strikes destroyed vehicles in Konna, and a command post in the region. A contingent of French special forces arrived at the Bamako airport on Saturday afternoon in order to secure the capital, said Le Drian, where Islamists claim they have sleeper cells ready to carry out suicide bombings.
Lt. Col. Diarran Kone, Mali Army Spokesman
"We have driven them out, we are effectively in Konna," Malian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Diaran Kone told Reuters. "We don't know if they have planted mines or other traps, so we are moving with caution. There were many deaths on both sides."