France Takes Mali's Last Rebel City; Next: the Hard Part

A force of African nations will try to keep militants from mounting comeback

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 30, 2013 12:13 PM CST

(Newser) – France is wrapping up the first phase of its Mali mission: Its forces took back the last big urban center once held by Islamic militants, reports Reuters. The success in Kidal follows similar operations in Gao and Timbuktu over the last three weeks, and now France is getting ready to turn over operations to an African force. Those troops will be charged with rooting out militants in the desert in the hope of preventing a counterattack. "Now it's up to the African countries," says the French foreign minister. "We will leave quickly."

Things might be going well, but the idea that militants bent on taking over the government can be flushed out so easily is "highly unrealistic," writes William Lloyd George at the Daily Beast. The Los Angeles Times rounds up similar skepticism, based on the precedent in Libya. In Timbuktu, meanwhile, the latest reports suggest that the city's priceless trove of ancient manuscripts has survived mostly intact. Earlier reports, including this one from the BBC, raised fears that militants had done some serious looting before fleeing the city. National Geographic quotes a tour guide on the significance: "The manuscripts are the city's real gold. The manuscripts, our mosques, and our history—these are our treasures. Without them, what is Timbuktu?"

A French soldier directs helicopters near Timbuktu, north Mali.
A French soldier directs helicopters near Timbuktu, north Mali.   (ECPAD), Arnaud Roine)
A crowd cheers the arrival of French soldiers in Timbuktu, in northern Mali.
A crowd cheers the arrival of French soldiers in Timbuktu, in northern Mali.   (ECPAD), Arnaud Roine)
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