Skip to main content

French-led forces in Mali take Timbuktu airport, enter city

From Andrea de Georgio, for CNN
January 28, 2013 -- Updated 2254 GMT (0654 HKT)
Malian soldiers transport in a pickup truck a dozen suspected Islamist rebels on Friday, February 8, after arresting them north of Gao. A suicide bomber blew himself up on February 8 near a group of Malian soldiers in the northern city, where Islamist rebels driven from the town have resorted to guerilla attacks. Malian soldiers transport in a pickup truck a dozen suspected Islamist rebels on Friday, February 8, after arresting them north of Gao. A suicide bomber blew himself up on February 8 near a group of Malian soldiers in the northern city, where Islamist rebels driven from the town have resorted to guerilla attacks.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Photos: Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Photos: Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
Mali military battles Islamist insurgents
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We are winning in Mali," French president says
  • French forces are fighting the remaining Islamists in Timbuktu
  • Militants are reported to be fleeing to another city farther northeast
  • Malian and French forces recaptured an Islamist stronghold last week

Read a version of this story on CNN Arabic.

On the road to Timbuktu, Mali (CNN) -- French-led troops in Mali have seized control of the airport in Timbuktu from Islamist militants and are fighting their way into the city center, spokesmen for the French Defense Ministry and the Malian military said Monday.

"We are winning in Mali," French President Francois Hollande said at a news conference.

Malian and French forces have together been battling the Islamists to loosen their grip on the country's north, which the militants have controlled for months.

Hollande, who refused to speculate on how long the French intervention would continue, said the Islamists still control the northern part of the country.

The fight for Timbuktu
Malian forces retake city of Gao
Mali conflict takes toll on civilians
Broken limbs, broken lives in Mali

The United States has also stepped up its involvement in the conflict by conducting aerial refueling missions on top of the intelligence and airlift support it was already providing.

Photos: Mali military battles Islamist insurgents

Malian and French soldiers scored a key victory last week, taking control of Gao, a city east of Timbuktu that for months had been a militant stronghold. And flushing the Islamists out of Timbuktu, Mali's historic cultural center, would be a big symbolic gain.

The Islamists were reported to be fleeing Timbuktu to the city of Kidal, more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) to the northeast.

New fears for Timbuktu in Mali conflict

The quickening advance of the government forces has brought them to the heart of the territory held by the militants.

Covering the fighting up close is almost impossible for journalists, who are prevented from gaining access to the front line. Journalists are allowed to enter a town only after it has been freed and its security guaranteed by French and Malian troops.

French forces are involved in the fight in Mali, a former French colony that retains close ties with Paris, in an effort to prevent the Islamists from turning the once peaceful democracy into a haven for international terrorists.

France has 2,150 soldiers on Malian soil, with 1,000 more troops supporting the operation from elsewhere.

Photos: Fears for Timbuktu in Mali conflict

The Islamic extremists carved out a large haven in northern Mali last year, taking advantage of a chaotic situation after a military coup by the separatist party MNLA. The militants banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television. They also destroyed historic tombs and shrines.

Refugees have told harrowing stories of life under the Islamist militants. But human rights groups have also raised concerns about reports that Malian soldiers are themselves carrying out extrajudicial killings and abuses as they counterstrike.

Six reasons events in Mali matter

The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court issued a statement Monday putting Malian forces on notice that "all those alleged to be responsible for serious crimes in Mali must be held accountable."

"My Office is aware of reports that Malian forces may have committed abuses in recent days, in central Mali," the prosecutor said. "I urge the Malian authorities to put an immediate stop to the alleged abuses and on the basis of the principle of complementarity, to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the alleged crimes."

The restrictions on journalists make it harder to gauge the realities on the ground.

The United Nations' refugee agency, the UNHCR, has called for an increase in international aid for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by the fighting in the country.

More than 150,000 refugees have fled Mali into neighboring countries, and another 230,000 are displaced inside Mali, the agency said.

One casualty in the battle for Timbuktu is the city's library, which was designated a world heritage site because of a treasure of rare books and manuscripts about precolonial Africa, a South Africa professor told CNN on Monday.

"What we don't know is the full extent of the damage," said Shamil Jeppie, who is director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts project. "There are no phones or communications to Timbuktu, and there haven't been for some time. Much of the images show documents and papers tossed on the ground, but it appears that just a portion of the library is actually burned. The building itself was certainly razed."

Jeppie said it would "be a loss for all humanity if the manuscripts were destroyed."

"In a continent in which most of the memory of peoples is transferred orally through storytelling and can be lost, the people in Timbuktu had a written tradition that is quite rare in Africa," he said.

"Most books that we get our knowledge of precolonial Africa were written by missionaries and seen through their eyes. This history is deeply precolonial, and we still have much to learn and simply can't do it without the documentation that is only there in Timbuktu."

CNN's Brian Walker contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT