French airstrikes jolt Islamists in Malian town

Posted: 01/20/13 at 8:35 pm EST

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- France's defense minister says Malian forces appear close to recapturing a key central town in Mali where bands of al-Qaida-linked fighters had holed up. He says they're being backed by French air strikes.

The French military has spent the last nine days helping the West African nation quash a jihadist rebellion in its vast northern desert. The comments Sunday from the defense minister, however, appear to cast some doubt on local military claims that the town of Diabaly (JAH'-bah-lee) had already been recaptured from the Islamists.

The town of 35,000, which hosts an important military camp, was taken over by al-Qaida-linked militants last week.

The minister tells France-5 TV that "Right now, the town of Diabaly is not retaken." But, he says, "everything leads us to believe Diabaly is going to head in the positive direction in the coming hours."

The French military says its fighter planes and helicopter gunships have carried out a dozen operations in the previous 24 hours -- half of them to strike "terrorist vehicles."

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