With Aid Of French Troops, Malian Fighters Halt Advance By Islamist Militants

In Mali, French-backed government forces said they retook a town from Islamist militants intent on pushing south toward the nation's capital.

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In Mali, government forces backed by French troops have halted an advance by al-Qaida linked Islamist fighters. Militants already control the north of the country and last week, they launched a surprise offensive south toward government-controlled territory. As NPR's Offeibea Quist-Arcton reports, African troop reinforcements have begun arriving in the capital.

OFFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: First, 100 troops from (unintelligible), then a modest advance contingent from Nigeria flew into Mali's capital Bamako yesterday to a warm welcome from the U.N.-mandated African force commander Nigerian Major General Shehu Usman Abdulkadir.

MAJOR GENERAL SHEHU USMAN ABDULKADIR: I'm happy to have them on ground because I've been eager to have my troops on ground so that we can go into action.

QUIST-ARCTON: General, how tough is this mission going to be? Because the insurgents seem to be very well armed, very well trained and pretty well organized.

ABDULKADIR: And that's why we're here now. We have to react to what's happening in northern Mali and quickly, too. We are well trained, well armed and well equipped, too, to face the challenge I believe is (unintelligible).

QUIST-ARCTON: The French were the first to come to Mali's aid. This was at the request of the government, after al-Qaida linked Islamists left their strongholds in the northern desert region that they seized last year and headed south. French air strikes with fighter jets and attack helicopters halted that advance and many Malians are saying, thank goodness.

I'm in downtown Bamako with a roadside donut seller and let's find out what her view is about the French intervention. (unintelligible) is throwing the dough into hot oil. Let's find out what she thinks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)

QUIST-ARCTON: The donut seller says she's really pleased about the French intervention. She says long live the French for having come to Mali's rescue. She hopes that there's going to be peace in Mali and that the country will be reunified and that there'll be peace and unity. Merci, madam.

Mali's minister of territorial administration, (unintelligible), says it's going to require a collective effort to defeat the rebels.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We are trying to make sure that we have the support of the whole population of Mali. Everyone, we need everybody, every Malian. We need support from people inside Mali, people outside. We need support from the international community. So we are trying to bring everybody together.

QUIST-ARCTON: Regional leaders who are deploying West African troops to Mali are to meet for a crisis summit tomorrow. Offeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Bamako.

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