The Edmond Sun

Nation & World

January 17, 2013

French forces unseen as Mali town prepares for possible Islamist advance

NIONO, Mali — The new frontline in the war on terror runs alongside a 20-meter-wide canal where a dozen or so Malian government soldiers and a handful of French armored personnel carriers now stand guard against an Islamist force that clearly is not backing down.

A signpost points the way north down a gravel road to Diabaly, some 40 miles away, where on Monday a rebel Islamist unit surprised a Malian garrison and overwhelmed it.

Two days later, fleeing refugees reaching here by car, donkey cart and bicycle reported seeing no signs of a much discussed counteroffensive to reclaim Diabaly. The 40 miles between Diabaly and this administrative hub was a no-man’s land, they said.

“I did not see a single Malian soldier,” said Cheikh Omar Dicko, who fled the whole way on a motorbike, with a friend on the back. “Not one.”

France’s short celebratory honeymoon in halting Islamist gains in Mali was dashed at Diabaly, when an Islamist force routed roughly 200 Malian troops from a small garrison in the village. The Malians were ambushed from behind, and many fled through a grove of mango trees and knee-high water.

It was a battle that taught the French some lessons about the anti-jihadist campaign they’ve begun:

— Air power is of limited benefit without ground troops capable of fending off the rebels — and the Malian military cannot.

— Their enemy is cunning, well-armed, brave and already adapting to neutralize France’s air power.

— The terrain, especially on this front, will not be their friend.

The story of the battle for Diabaly is still unfolding. But interviews with officials here and fleeing residents tells of a cunning Islamist force using all its advantages to take new ground, even in the face of a modern Western nation deploying air power.

The story begins in the town of Goma, which sits about 13 miles north of Diabaly. The rebels captured it months ago, marking the southern edge of an Islamist-controlled expanse that stretches from the western banks of the Niger River, north to the historic city of Timbuktu, and northwest to the porous border with Mauritania.

When the French began arriving in Mali on Friday, the Islamists sent reinforcements to Goma. Then, rather than wait for Malian troops to move into Islamist-controlled territory, the Islamists decided to move south.

The most likely attack route, Malian forces thought, would be a road that runs along a canal between Goma and Diabaly. They prepared to meet the Islamists there.

Instead, the rebel convoy, under the cloak of early morning darkness, turned east off the road three miles outside of Goma, at the village of Dogofru. From there, they navigated through the shrubby terrain toward the southeast.

Some parked their trucks and approached Diabaly on foot from the east, while about 20 other trucks looped around the bank of another canal — dubbed the Millennium Challenge canal by locals, because American aid dollars paid for it two years ago — and attacked Diabaly from the south, through the villages of Alatola and Kourouma.

The Malian soldiers tried to block them at Alatola but were pushed back to their base in Diabaly. There, they were ambushed on their flank by the rebels, who had crossed a swamp by foot to attack the town.

The battle lasted several hours, but before noon the surviving Malian soldiers fled.

The prefect for the wider region, Seydou Traore, said about 70 trucks full of insurgents participated in the attack, and he estimated about 50 more had arrived since.

The insurgents are staying in groups of 20 or so trucks, parking discreetly under trees to avoid aerial bombardment, he said.

That’s not the only way the rebels are hiding from air power. The rebels are shutting down the roads to prevent civilians from fleeing. They are then mixing in with the population, even eating food at their houses.

From those fleeing, there were no reports of civilian casualties. There also were no reports that the rebel force had been significantly weakened from the bombardment, which came not only from jets but also from ground-strafing helicopters.

Niono is the next town in line for battle, if the Islamists continue their advance. The area is far from the type of desert warfare France may have been expecting: It’s crisscrossed with canals, packed with rice and onion fields and eucalyptus plantations, its farms surrounded on all sides by countless dikes, ditches and bridges.

In Bamako, Mali’s capital hundreds of miles away, there are rumors that the French are massing for a ground attack on Diabaly. Here, however, there is little sign of such preparations, though the prefect said appearances can be deceiving.

“Who said they are not here?” he asked. “They spent last night here. They are here, you just can’t see them.”

As dusk fell, four French armored personnel carriers were seen heading toward Niono.

Ali Giundo, 30, fled his Diabaly home on Monday, riding his motorbike all the way south to Niono.

“The road is full of rumors of this village and that falling to the jihadists,” he said.

When he arrived at Niono, the soldiers at the bridge, the first he’d seen the whole trip, asked for his ID but did not frisk him.

“The enemy may try to infiltrate us as regular civilians,” warned Traore, whose office is just a few yards from the checkpoint. “This is not conventional warfare.”

Text Only
Nation & World
  • MS_injection well.jpg Agency clarifies earthquake-related misinformation

    A state agency says misinformation related to the debate about the cause of more earthquakes across Central Oklahoma includes oil well types, well numbers and injection pressure.
    The Prague sequence of 2011 along the Wilzetta Fault zone included a significant foreshock, a main shock of magnitude 5.7 and numerous aftershocks. It has been suggested that this sequence represents tremors triggered by fluid injection.
    More recently, earthquakes have been recorded in the vicinity of Jones, Arcadia Lake, Edmond, Guthrie, Langston and Crescent. Regulators and scientists are working together to better understand what’s causing all the shaking.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • New study counters pot legalization argument

    A new study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences, a researcher says.
    Researchers say the findings suggest recreational marijuana use may lead to previously unidentified brain changes and highlight the importance of research aimed at understanding the long-term effects of low to moderate marijuana use on the brain.

    April 15, 2014

  • Anita Hill.jpg Anita Hill reflects on her fateful testimony, 23 years later

    Back in 1993, I rounded a corner of a Laguna Beach, Calif., grocery store and walked straight into Anita Hill.
    We both stopped in our tracks. She looked slightly panicked, like someone had turned on a light in a room, and all she wanted was the door.
    It took a moment to register that this was the woman who, just two years before, calmly testified before a Senate committee about the sexual harassment she endured while working for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas  at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of all places.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • jc_Erick Wyatt.JPG Norman man takes on challenge to unseat Inhofe

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of candidate profiles leading up to the 2014 Oklahoma elections.

    Erick Wyatt is running for U.S. Senate to be a strong voice of the people, he said. More than anything, Wyatt said he is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe for the sake of his children.
    The Norman Republican vows to represent the people’s interests instead of the interests of powerful political groups, Wyatt said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140414_MALAYSIA_Bluefin.jpg In new phase to find Flight 370, search robot will enter ocean

    The pings have sputtered out in the multinational search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, forcing search crews to deploy an underwater robot to find a plane that’s eluded human efforts.
    In a last-ditch effort to find the Boeing 777 and its black box flight recorders, a U.S. Navy submersible vehicle will be used to scan an area in the southern Indian Ocean for debris.
    “We haven’t had a single detection in six days, so I guess it’s time to go underwater,” Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Center, told a news conference in that country’s western city of Perth on Monday.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • 25801486.jpg VIDEO: Northern California bus crash kills 10

    At least nine people died in Northern California on Thursday night, in an accident involving a bus, a car and FedEx truck. The bus was filled with high school students from Southern California who were on their way to visit a college campus.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Strong earthquake rattles Logan County

    Ray Dorwart, owner of Guthrie’s Dorwart Custom Boots, 117 S. Second, said he was in his store working on a sewing machine when he felt the structure shake Monday morning.
    Dorwart was on the phone with an out-of-state friend when he heard some tools rattle and felt the wood floor vibrate.

    April 7, 2014

  • Number of Americans without health insurance reaches new low

    The share of Americans without health insurance has dropped to the lowest level since before President Barack Obama took office, according to a new national survey that provides more evidence the health care law is extending coverage to millions of the previously uninsured.
    Just 14.7 percent of adults lacked coverage in the second half of March, down from 18 percent in the last quarter of 2013, the survey from Gallup found.

    April 7, 2014

  • Daniel Dissinger, 13.jpg Investigators seek cause of fire that killed 3 brothers

    Two siblings, a 14-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, survived the early-morning Friday inferno that may have been touched off by kerosene lanterns used in the home. They ran to a neighbor’s house to ask for help and were later treated for smoke inhalation.
    A sixth child, age 4 ½, was spending the night at a friend’s house.

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos