Mali and Niger forces retake northern Malian town
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Troops from Mali and Niger entered the northern Malian town of Ansongo on Tuesday. Hundreds of people spilled onto Ansongo’s streets, which had been under Islamist militant control, to cheer as they entered the town.
Forces from Mali and Niger took control of the northern Malian town of Ansongo on Tuesday, which is located just 80 kilometres (around 50 miles) south of the key northern city of Gao.
Hundreds of people spilled onto Ansongo’s streets, which had been under Islamist militant control, to cheer Malian and Nigerien troops as they entered the town with one woman shouting, “Let me see the liberators up close!”
The military operation began early on Tuesday morning in Yassen, a small village on Niger’s border with Mali, where a convoy of more than 100 armoured vehicles and four-wheel drives equipped with machine guns rolled toward Ansongo before taking it in the early afternoon.
Crowds gathered around the town’s main administrative buildings, which Islamist militants from the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Unification and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) had sequestered as their headquarters.
The success comes a little more than two weeks after France began the operation to help free Mali’s north from Islamist militant control. While French forces have borne the brunt of the campaign, around 2,000 African troops have now been sent to Mali or neighbouring Niger to boost the French-led offensive.
Britain has also offered aid to help France’s effort in Mali and pledged soldiers to assist other African governments in the region. Up to 240 British troops could be deployed as part of two missions to train African forces.
The United States has extended deployment of surveillance drones that could track down rebel bases and columns in the Sahara desert. Mali’s neighbour Niger on Tuesday gave permission for US drones to fly from its territory.
However, the bulk of the planned African intervention force for Mali – to be comprised mostly of West African troops – is still struggling to get into the country, hampered by shortages of kit and supplies and lack of airlift capacity to fly the troops in.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)