French forces to combat Mali 'terrorists', says Hollande
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French President François Hollande said on Friday that French, Malian and UN forces had launched a large-scale military operation in Mali to combat terrorism and restore stability in the country ahead of legislative elections.
France’s armed forces announced on Thursday that it had launched a significant operation with Malian and United Nations forces to combat the growing presence of Islamist forces in Mali. It is the largest such military action in the country since France carried out an intervention in January 2013, after Islamist forces exploited a rebellion by Tuareg separatists to seize control of the north.
“We never said that our intervention would bring an end to terrorism in the region,” Hollande said at a press conference.
Terrorism taking root
Hollande said that terrorism had taken root across the Sahel, including northern Mali.
“The clearest evidence of this is that there have been several victims of suicide bomb attacks over the past few days, particularly among Chad’s forces,” Holland said, referring to an incident in the northern town of Tessalit on Wednesday, in which a suicide bomber killed two Chadian soldiers and injured six other UN peacekeepers in an attack on a checkpoint.
“I therefore ordered an operation to take out the groups that attacked Tessalit using the French troops still present in Mali – more than 2,500 [men] – and Mali’s armed forces,” Hollande said.
He added that the terrorists’ goal was to destabilise the country ahead of legislative elections on November 24.
“The operation’s goal is to make these elections secure and safe,” Hollande said. “Afterwards, we will reduce our presence and hand over control to United Nations forces.”
Unrest in Mali
Recent months have seen a rise in violence in Mali in the form of both attacks by Islamists, as well as fighting between security forces and Tuareg separatists.
France’s Colonel Gilles Jaron, however, has stressed that such incidents have remained relatively small in scale and have been perpetrated largely by groups who do not have the resources or ability to engage in a long-term conflict.
“We know that not all of these terrorist groups […] in Mali were eliminated,” he said. “And at times, they may resurface as we move toward legislative elections."
Earlier this month, the UN appealed for more troops and helicopters to be sent to Mali to help it with its peacekeeping operation. The UN Security Council originally mandated a 12,600-strong force in the country, but currently has just 5,200 troops on the ground.
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