U.N. Backs French Military Intervention In Mali

The French military continues its bombing raids in Northern Mali, where extremists, including an al-Qaida affiliate, have taken over. The French have pummeled rebel positions from the air, backing up Mali's beleaguered army on the ground.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

France's military intervention in Mali now has the approval of the United Nations. And today French airstrikes continue in the West African nation.

MONTAGNE: The goal is to restore order in a country where groups linked with al-Qaida have taken much of the northern desert region. In many areas they've imposed strict Islamic law.

INSKEEP: Our coverage begins with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: French military intervention, at the request of Mali's president, has been dramatic, with surgical air strikes by fighter jets and attack helicopters, targeting heavily-armed Islamist convoys and command centers.

Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the U.N., says they wanted to halt the rebel advance on government-held South.

AMBASSADOR GERARD ARAUD: What was at stake was the existence of Mali and beyond Mali was the stability of all West Africa. So it's with determination, but also with reluctance, that we have decided to launch this military intervention. And we'll conduct it as long as necessary.

QUIST-ARCTON: So far the French have pummeled rebel positions from the air, backing up Mali's beleaguered army on the ground. But the al-Qaida affiliated Islamist insurgents are mobile, versatile and determined, and they know the desert terrain they control, which has become a refuge for terrorists and traffickers.

The rebel fighters have managed to seize more territory under the noses of the Malian and French militaries. But the battle continues to try to dislodge the Islamists. African troops are under pressure to deploy swiftly, to lead the operation as mandated by the U.N., while parallel diplomatic and political solutions are pursued.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.

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