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On Friday, the French government deployed troops to Mali to quell rebel forces that have gained control of the northern half of the country. Over 100 people were killed as a result of French air strikes in the central town of Konna on Saturday.
Reports of the death toll differ. Reuters reports that a Konna shopkeeper counted nearly 150 bodies in the town. The Malian jihadists do not have a uniform and generally dress in traditional robes and turbans. This makes identifying rebels from the general population difficult.
Malian army officers have reported the destruction of nearly 30 vehicles in which Islamist fighters were traveling. By Saturday, a Malian government spokesperson confirmed, “We have driven them out, we are effectively in Konna.”
French support was called for by the Malian president. In response, French forces spent Friday and Saturday providing military assistance to the Malian army in its attempt to block the advancement of militant forces towards the south. So far, the Islamists remain in control of the northern half of the country.
According to the Wall Street Journal, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “The risk is the creation of a terrorist state at the doorstep of Europe and France.” He says France’s priorities also include protecting the nearly 6,000 French citizens who live in Mali. Mali used to be part of France’s colonial empire in Africa.
A concern being raised by French conservatives is the increased potential for blowback against France. With French involvement in Mali, the threat level from jihadists towards France may increase. In response, French President François Hollande affirmed that the anti-terror alert system would be reinforced. The threat level is currently near the maximum level.
While the deployment is currently only French, American technical assistance has been requested in Mali. While U.S. officials say the goal of quelling the radical Islamist push in Mali is common between America and France, they have yet to provide assistance.