Reports of innocent civilians killed—including children—have surfaced following bombings by French fighter jets in rebel-held sections of Mali over the weekend.
As French soldiers also landed in the north African former colony, officials indicated their military intervention in the north African country was "seconded" and given support by the United States, but they would not elaborate.
Meanwhile, as some Africa nations vowed to support the military effort, a spokesman for the Islamist fighters on the receiving end of French gunfire say they are not affiliated with al Qaeda—as has been widely claimed by the Mali government and reported in the media—and claim that airstrikes aimed at their soldiers by the French have so-far killed mostly innocent civilians.
The Guardian reports:
The French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said on Sunday that France now has more than 400 troops in Bamako, mainly to ensure the safety of French citizens and also to send a signal to the extremists.
"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," Le Drian said on a political talk show with itele and Europe 1 radio. He also said that Rafale fighter jets will be part of the operation and that technical support will be arriving soon.
He said that France has international support and "the Americans seconded us" with intelligence and logistical support, though he did not elaborate.
Storage hangars and "sensitive sites" were among targets destroyed so far and the Islamists lost a "significant number" in the fighting, Le Drian said. "The intervention is still in progress and we will continue" as long as needed.
The military operation began on Friday, after the fall of Konna on Thursday to the rebel groups. Konna is only 30 miles north of the government's line of control, which begins at Mopti, home to the largest concentration of Malian troops in the country.
The UNhad cautioned that a military intervention needed to be properly planned, and outlined a step-by-step process that diplomats said would delay the operation until at least September of this year.
However, the rebels' decision to push south, and the swift fall of Konna, changed everything. After an appeal for help from Mali's president, the French president, François Hollande, sent in Mirage jets and combat helicopters, pounding rebel convoys and destroying a militant base. Footage of the jets showed the triangle-shaped aircrafts screaming across the sky over northern Mali. Le Monde reported that the jets dropped at least two, 250kg (550lb) bombs on militant targets.
The human toll has not yet been calculated, but a communique read on state television late Saturday said that at least 11 Malians were killed in Konna.
Sory Diakite, the mayor of Konna, says the dead included children who drowned after they threw themselves into a river in an effort to escape the bombs.
"Others were killed inside their courtyards, or outside their homes. People were trying to flee to find refuge. Some drowned in the river. At least three children threw themselves in the river. They were trying to swim to the other side. And there has been significant infrastructure damage," said the mayor, who fled the town with his family and is now in Bamako.
Human rights groups have warned that any military intervention will exact a humanitarian price. Mali, and the international community, found itself in a Catch-22 because every passing week that any intervention was delayed allowed the rebels to dig in and prepare for war. The rebels occupied Mali's northern half, an area larger than Afghanistan, amid the chaos after a coup in Mali's capital last March.
The coup in Mali, as many have pointed out, followed directly on the de-stabilizing events that occured in neighboring Libya after a US- and NATO-backed military intervention to depose Muammar Gaddafi created a power shift in the north of Mali.
And this report from Al-Jazeera contains an interview a spokeperson for Ansar Dine, who denies that his group is linked to al-Qaeda, and says most of those killed in the attack on Konna were innocent civilians: