French troops captured the city of Gao in northeast Mali from Islamist rebels today, France’s Defense Ministry said, in a further step toward driving the militants out of the country.
Malian and African forces were being deployed to secure the area around the city, about 590 miles (950 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Bamako, following the overnight action by French special forces, according to the ministry. French troops were playing a supporting role after taking the airport and a bridge over the River Niger to the south of the city, French military spokesman Thierry Burkhard said by phone.
“Malian and French forces liberate Gao,” the ministry said in its e-mailed statement today. “Several terrorist groups battled with the French forces intervening in support of the Malian army."
Rebel transport equipment and several logistic sites were destroyed, according to the ministry.
France intervened in Mali on Jan. 11 after Islamist fighters overran the town of Konna, sparking concern they might advance to Bamako. The French defense ministry said 3,700 French soldiers are involved in the operation, including 2,500 on Mali soil.
The mayor of Gao, Sadou Diallo, returned to the city after having taken refugee in Bamako, the French Defense Ministry said. Troops from Nigeria and Chad are arriving to take over from the French forces in Gao, it said.
African nations are deploying a force that may total as many as 3,300 soldiers to aid the fight against the rebels, who include Islamist militants and ethnic Touareg separatists, in the country that gained independence from France in 1960.
West African nations have decided to increase their Mali mission to 5,700 troops, General Shehu Abdulkadir, commander of the African-led international support mission to Mali, or Afisma, said today in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Separately, Chad also is sending 2,250 soldiers, Abdulkadir said.
A new contingent of African forces from Togo arrived yesterday in the central town of San, Radio Mali reported, citing Thierno Boubacar Cisse, the governor of Segou, with 209 soldiers joining Togolese troops already deployed there.
Nigerian troops started deploying on Jan. 17. President President Goodluck Jonathan has offered 1,200 soldiers to join the African force.
African Union Summit
African leaders start a two-day meeting Sunday, Jan. 27, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to discuss how to make sure their force has enough resources to sustain a campaign against insurgents who control the north of Mali. The force may cost $300 million a year, the African Union Commission’s Peace and Security Director, El-Ghassim Wane, told reporters Jan. 24.
Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, Benin and Ghana have pledged to contribute troops to the African-led force.
The insurgents took control of northern Mali, including the historic town of Timbuktu, after a coup in March last year by government soldiers complaining that they hadn’t received weapons and vehicles to fight the rebels.
Mali vies with Tanzania as Africa’s third-largest producer of gold, with AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and Randgold Resources Ltd. among the companies operating in the country. It ranks 175th out of 187 nations on the UN Human Development Index, which measures indicators including literacy, income and gender equality.