French forces intensified their bombardment of northern Mali last weekend. Thirty aircraft took part in bombing raids on at least 20 targets in the mountainous regions near the Algerian border.
Islamist rebels have retreated from the cities to their bases in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.
The French hope to smash them before they can regroup.
France’s president Francois Hollande flew into Timbuktu last week to celebrate his military’s rapid capture of northern Mali’s cities. He promised to keep troops in country “as long as necessary”.
Meanwhile British prime minister David Cameron toured the Middle East to justify Western action.
He said in Libya, “Sometimes intervening in other countries is not simply about military intervention or security.”
The United Nations adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, says there have “been reports of incidents of mob lynching and looting of properties belonging to Arab and Tuareg communities.
“These communities are reportedly being accused of supporting armed groups, based simply on their ethnic affiliation.”
It was widely reported that retreating rebels had burned the library in Timbuktu.
This turned out to be wildly exaggerated.
The only major town not held by the invaders is Kidal.
Kidal is still in the hands of rebels from the Tuareg MNLA, which has been fighting for an independent state (see Tuareg people fought for an independent Azawad). This once more gives the lie to the idea that the north was run by a unified Al Qaida force.
In fact Mali’s Islamist rebels are made up of at least three different groups with differing ideologies.
Only one associates itself with Al Qaida.
In any case, as a Financial Times article last Monday argued, “Links between the different [Al Qaida] franchises are often tenuous if they exist at all and many of the groups have emerged from principally regional struggles, sharing a similar extremist ideology and using the Al Qaida label to amplify their message.”
The charity Oxfam has warned that food and fuel supplies are running dangerously short for ordinary people in the north.
Arab and Tuareg traders who would normally distribute supplies have fled from ethnic attacks since the French and Malian government forces gained control.
Many traders have had their shops broken into and looted.
Prices in the city of Gao have risen more than 20 percent since the intervention.
Meanwhile French special forces have moved into neighbouring Niger to defend the country’s uranium mines.
These supply the bulk of the fuel used by French nuclear power stations.