France's foreign minister is optimistic about the campaign it started in Mali Friday, saying it will be over within "weeks." He rejected a comparison to the Afghanistan war, adding, "we have no intention of staying forever," the BBC reports. The country's defense minister was also positive, saying the mission is "developing favorably," even as Islamist fighters today seized Diabaly, a government-controlled territory 250 miles from the capital of Bamako. A Malian intelligence agent tells the AP that French pilots launched a raid near Diabaly this morning, which marks an expansion of the conflict—until now, raids were occurring in the distant north.
The defense minister says Islamists are retreating in the east, but still causing France difficulty in the west. Aides to French President Francois Hollande say they are better trained and better armed than had been expected. More from the conflict:
- Mali rebels have sworn to take revenge; one leader for al-Qaeda offshoot Mujao tells AFP, "France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France." French authorities are on high alert for retaliatory attacks on home soil.
- The European Union will send military trainers to the Malian army late next month or early in March, Reuters reports, but the EU does not plan for those trainers to have any combat role in the country.
- And NATO says France has not asked it for any help, Reuters adds. A spokesperson says the organization is "concerned" about the situation in Mali and welcomes France's efforts, but "there has been no request, no discussion [within NATO] on the situation in Mali, the alliance as such is not involved in this crisis."
- Hollande is holding a cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis today, and the UN Security Council will also meet today at France's request.
- The New York Times takes an extensive look at the crisis and its background, noting that the US for years attempted to stop the Islamic militants from gaining a foothold in the region. But last year, many of the commanders trained by America defected. "It was a disaster," says a senior Malian officer. It was also an American-trained officer who led the coup that eventually overthrew Mali’s elected government.
Meanwhile, a west African intervention force is putting together the promised troops who will be sent to Mali
though it's not clear when they will arrive.