After five days of air strikes, French special forces launch major ground
offensive as Islamists take cover in town
Ian Black and Monica Mark
The Guardian, Wednesday 16 January 2013 18.48 GMT
French special forces and Malian government troops launched an offensive against Islamist rebels to retake the town of Diabaly on Wednesday in the first big ground operation in the conflict.
French troops were described as fighting "hand-to-hand" with insurgents taking cover in a built-up area. "The jihadists have split up," a witness, Ibrahim Komnotogo, told the Associated Press. "They don't move around in big groups. They are out in the streets, in fours and fives and sixes and they are living inside the most populated neighbourhoods."
Diabaly, which is in central Mali, 220 miles north of the capital Bamako, was captured by rebel fighters on Monday, shortly after France intervened militarily to try to halt the Islamists' push towards Bamako. Ansar Dine ("Defenders of the Faith"), one of the main armed rebel groups, said it controlled the town. Communications were cut off early on Wednesday.