The French-led force in Mali has taken control of the historic city of Timbuktu, and is now patrolling the streets to flush out any remaining Islamist militants.
A force of approximately 1,000 French troops and 200 Malian soldiers surrounded Timbuktu on Monday, taking control of the airport and cautiously entering the city. On Tuesday, the French military announced that they had taken control of the city and were searching for any last remaining militants.
“There were no shots fired, no blood spilt. Not even passive resistance with traps,” Col Frederic Gout, the head of helicopter operations in Timbuktu told AFP.
Residents of Timbuktu, which is still without electricity after the power lines were cut, have claimed that the Islamists had left several days before following French air strikes.
Cheers in Timbuktu as Troops Arrive
Timbuktu is the second major city which the combined force of French, Malian, and West African troops have taken without encountering any resistance. Although this raises hopes that the campaign to retake northern Mali may be completed swiftly and with little bloodshed, it also raises fears that the Islamists may be melting away to prepare for a guerrilla campaign of suicide attacks and hit and run strikes.
Damage to Historic Library
Retreating Islamist fighters are reported to have set fire to several buildings, including the Ahmed Baba library which housed some 30,000 historic manuscripts dating back as far as the 13th century. A worker at the Ahmed Baba institute named Ali Baba told Sky News that around 3,000 of the manuscripts had been destroyed.
The Next Step
The combined force is now expected to move its attentions to the town of Kidal close to the border with Algeria, which is the last major rebel stronghold.
Recent reports from Kidal have suggested that Islamists may have already lost control of the town. The secular Tuareg rebel group MNLA, which had initially worked together with the Islamists to take control of northern Mali from the government, before being pushed out of power themselves, claim that they have taken control of the town from Ansar Dine Islamist rebels.
The MNLA leadership have said that they are prepared to work with the French “to eradicate terrorist groups” (ie the Islamists), but would not be willing to hand over power to a government which it accuses of “crimes against the civilian population”. There has no indication that the French are willing to do a deal with MNLA.