France launched airstrikes today to help the government of Mali defeat al-Qaeda-linked militants who captured more ground this week, dramatically raising the stakes in the battle for this vast desert nation. French President Francois Hollande said the "terrorist groups, drug traffickers, and extremists" in northern Mali "show a brutality that threatens us all." He vowed that the operation would last "as long as necessary." France said it was taking the action in Mali at the request of President Dioncounda Traore, who declared a state of emergency because of the militants' advance.
The arrival of the French troops in their former colony came a day after the Islamists moved the closest yet toward territory still under government control and fought the Malian military for the first time in months, seizing the strategic city of Konna. Sanda Abou Moahmed, a spokesman for the Ansar Dine group, condemned Mali's president for seeking military help from its former colonizer. "While Dioncounda Traore asked for help from France, we ask for guidance from Allah and from other Muslims in our sub-region because this war has become a war against the crusaders," he said by telephone from Timbuktu. See more here. (Read more Mali stories.)