French troops in armored personnel carriers rolled through the streets of Diabaly Monday, winning praise from residents of this besieged town after Malian forces retook control of it with French help a week after radical Islamists invaded.
The Islamists also have deserted the town of Douentza, which they had held since September, according to a local official who said French and Malian forces arrived there on Monday as well.
The terrorists’ occupation of Diabaly marked their deepest encroachment into government-held territory, and Monday’s retaking of the town is a significant victory for the French-led intervention.
Diabaly, located about 320 miles north of Bamako, the capital, fell on Jan. 14.
“We are truly grateful to the French who came in the nick of time,” said Gaoussou Kone, 34, the head of a local youth association. “Without the French, not only would there no longer be a Diabaly, there would soon no longer be a Mali. These people wanted to go all the way to Bamako.”
On Monday, all that remained of the Islamists were the charred shells of their vehicles destroyed by French air strikes.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi opposed France’s military intervention in Mali. Speaking at the opening of an Arab economic summit in Saudi Arabia, he said France’s actions would create a “new conflict hotspot.” He said he would have preferred to see a “peaceful and developmental” intervention.