BAMAKO, Mali – French fighter jets bombed rebel targets in a major city in Mali’s north Sunday, pounding the airport as well as training camps, warehouses and buildings used by the al-Qaida-linked Islamists controlling the area, officials and residents said. The three-day-old French-led effort to take back Mali’s north from the extremists began with airstrikes by combat helicopters in the small town of Konna.
It has grown to a coordinated attack by state-of-the-art fighter jets which have bombarded at least five towns, of which Gao, which was attacked Sunday afternoon, is the largest. More than 400 French troops have been deployed to the country in the all-out effort to win back the territory from the well-armed rebels, who seized control of an area larger than France nine months ago.
What began as a French offensive has now grown to include seven other countries, including logistical support from the U.S. and Europe. The United States is providing communications and transport help, while Britain is sending C-17 aircraft to help Mali’s allies transport troops to the frontlines.
French President Francois Hollande authorized the intervention after it became clear the swiftly advancing rebels could break Mali’s military defenses in Mopti, the first town on the government-controlled side, located in the center of this African country. The move catapulted the world into a fight that diplomats had earlier said would not take place until at least September.
French officials have acknowledged that the rebels are better armed than they expected.