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The Conflict in Mali

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Two weeks ago, the French military launched Operation Serval, intervening in a complicated, months-old conflict in northern Mali. A year earlier, Tuareg rebels had attacked government positions throughout northern Mali, temporarily seizing control of a large area and declaring it a new state named Azawad. The rebels soon lost control though, displaced by several Islamist groups, including elements of Al Qaeda, intent on imposing Sharia law in the region and possibly establishing a base for terrorist activity. Those militant groups began pushing south recently, prompting a planned U.N. action, but France felt compelled to act sooner than anticipated, to prevent further damaging gains. More than 2,000 French troops are now involved in Mali, pursuing and attacking anti-government forces from the air and ground, with support from nine other western countries and several neighboring African nations. [36 photos]

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A soldier of the French foreign legion wearing a skeleton mask stands next to an armored vehicle in a street in Niono, Mali, on January 20, 2013. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today that the goal of France's military action in Mali was to retake control of the entire country from Islamist militants who have seized the north. "The goal is the total reconquest of Mali. We will not leave any pockets" of resistance, Le Drian said on French television. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
A soldier of the French foreign legion wearing a skeleton mask stands next to an armored vehicle in a street in Niono, Mali, on January 20, 2013. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today that the goal of France's military action in Mali was to retake control of the entire country from Islamist militants who have seized the north. "The goal is the total reconquest of Mali. We will not leave any pockets" of resistance, Le Drian said on French television. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
Malian troops man an observation post outside Sevare, some 620 km (400 mi) north of Mali's capital Bamako, on January 24, 2013. One wing of Mali's Ansar Dine rebel group has split off to create its own movement, saying that they want to negotiate a solution to the crisis in Mali, in a declaration that indicates at least some of the members of the al-Qaeda-linked group are searching for a way out of the extremist movement in the wake of French airstrikes. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Mohamed Ag, a security guard in a mining company, poses for a picture in Gao, Mali, on January 13, 2013. Mohamed was reportedly beaten by Islamists who accused him of being an informer for the Malian army. (AFP/Getty Images) #
French military personnel and their vehicles, aboard a U.S. Air Force transport aircraft before departing for Mali from Istres airbase, near Marseille, France, on January 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Claude Paris) #
French troops gather in a hangar at Bamako's airport in Mali, on January 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
A soldier directs two French Mirage 2000D jets, after landing at Bamako airport, Mali, on January 17, 2013. Mali's military claimed that it has held control of a key town where Islamic extremists had battled forces for a week, though aid groups said they were unable to reach the area to provide humanitarian assistance. (AP Photo/Jeremy Lempin, ECPAD) #
French soldiers walk around an area destroyed during aerial bombings as they arrive in the city of Diabaly, on January 21, 2013. French and Malian troops recaptured the Malian towns of Diabaly and Douentza from Islamist fighters, France's defence minister said. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images) #
A woman, seen through a bullet hole in a vehicle, believed to belong to Islamist rebels and destroyed during French air strikes, in the recently liberated town of Diabaly, on January 24, 2013. (Reuters/Eric Gaillard) #
A picture taken with a mobile phone on January 12, 2013 reportedly shows the body of a fighter of Islamist insurgent group Ansar Dine, allegedly killed during an air strike by the French army on the eve at the Gao custom office. (AFP/Getty Images) #
A man takes a picture of the charred remains of trucks used by Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, on January 21, 2013. French and Malian troops took control Monday of the town of Diabaly, patrolling the streets in armored personnel carriers and inspecting the charred remains vehicles left behind by the fleeing militants. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
A photo taken on January 22, 2013 shows the body of an alleged Islamist in Diabaly. Mali. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images) #
Malian soldiers celebrate as they return to Niono, from Diabaly, on January 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
French troops walk in Niono, Mali, on January 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Units of the French army take position near Sevare, on January 23, 2013. African forces on Wednesday began moving towards Mali's center, the French foreign minister said, as pressure grew on Malian troops over summary killings during a Paris-led assault on Al Qaeda-linked groups. Nearly two weeks after France swept to Mali's aid to stop an Islamist advance towards the capital Bamako, reports emerged of atrocities committed by Malian soldiers and growing fears of attacks among light-skinned ethnic communities. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Malian man, Sadou, poses at his home with a machete to protect himself in case of attacks by Malian Islamist rebel groups, in Mopti, on January 24, 2013. Home to about 120,000 people and what used to be a vibrant tourist industry, with the bars and hotels that accompany it, Mopti is a mere 50 km (30 mi) from Konna -- which fell to Al-Qaeda-linked fighters on January 10. But the capture of Konna sparked a military intervention by former colonial ruler France which halted the rebel advance, bringing relief to locals on knife-edge. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images) #
A boy who fled northern Mali, at a camp for internally displaced persons, in the city of Sevare, Mali, on January 23, 2013. The U.S. airlift of French forces to Mali to fight Islamic extremists is expected to go on for another two weeks, Pentagon officials said, as hundreds of African troops from Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso and Senegal are now joining the French-led intervention. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) #
A woman who fled northern Mali looks out from a tent at a camp for internally displaced persons in Sevare, on January 23, 2013. Mali's army chief said today his French-backed forces could reclaim the northern towns of Gao and fabled Timbuktu from Islamists in a month, as more offers of aid poured in for the offensive. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images) #
Motorcyclists drive past a mural showing Malian soldiers in the capital of Bamako, on January 13, 2013. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
Tailor Abdoulay Cissuma sews a French flag at the central market in Bamako, on January 24, 2013. (Reuters/Malin Palm) #
A woman waves to French soldiers, part of a convoy of French military vehicles including armored personnel carriers, jeeps and supply trucks, heading toward the recently liberated town of Diabaly, on January 24, 2013. (Reuters/Eric Gaillard) #
A child peers into a commercial van waiting at a military checkpoint in Niono, on January 21, 2013. A column of French and Malian armoured personnel carriers and supply trucks moved north into the central Malian town of Diabaly after the Islamist rebels who were controlling it melted away, security sources said. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
A French soldier takes up position outside Markala, on January 19, 2013. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
A truck carrying Malian farmers passes by a French army dugout outside Markala, on January 19 2013. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
The flag-draped coffin of French lieutenant Damien Boiteux of the 4th helicopter special forces regiment, who was killed during the French intervention in Mali, is carried by pallbearers into the courtyard of the Invalides during a national ceremony of homage in Paris, on January 15, 2013. (Reuters/Philippe Wojazer) #
A French Puma transport helicopter lands to test the field in the center of Niono, on January 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Munitions, believed to belong to Islamist rebels, lie stockpiled in the courtyard of local resident Issa Dembele's house in Diabaly, on January 23, 2013. Dembele said the rebels took over his house when they took control of Diabaly last week to store weapons and munitions. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
A carton containing American-made munitions believed to belong to Islamist rebels, in the courtyard of Issa Dembele's house in Diabaly, on January 23, 2013. Dembele said the rebels took over his house when they took control of Diabaly last week to store weapons and munitions. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
Issa (left) and Asseytou Dembele pose for a picture with their son Bakary in their house in Diabaly, on January 23, 2013. Dembele said Islamist rebels took over his house when they took control of Diabaly last week and used it to store weapons and munitions. The munitions were abandoned during fighting between the rebels and the French and Malian troops. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
A Bin Laden sticker adorns the tank of a small motorcycle in Mopti, Mali, on January 24, 2013. One wing of Mali's Ansar Dine rebel group reportedly split off to create its own movement, saying that they want to negotiate a solution to the crisis in Mali, in a declaration that indicates at least some of the members of the al-Qaeda-linked group are searching for a way out of the extremist movement in the wake of French airstrikes. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Coumba Bah lies on a hospital bed in Niono, on January 19, 2013. The 12-year-old was hit in the knees by stray bullets during the fighting between the Malian army and Islamists in Diabaly. The EU executive recently announced 20 million euros of extra humanitarian aid to help tens of thousands of Malians fleeing fighting in the nation's north and center, its second such donation in as many months. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
A Malian soldier points his weapon at an oncoming vehicle, prompting the driver to slow down, at a checkpoint in Diabaly, on January 21, 2013. The town of Diabaly was retaken by French and Malian forces after al Qaeda-linked rebels took over the town a week ago. (Reuters/Joe Penney) #
A man suspected of collaborating with Islamists is left bleeding after having been beaten, in the city of Diabaly, on January 22, 2013. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images) #
A child looks at French soldiers filling up their tank at a local petrol station in Sevare, on January 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
A French soldier checks a map with Malian soldiers as they conduct operations in the bush between Markala and Diabali, central Mali, on January 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Arnaud Roine, ECPAD) #
French soldiers man a Sagaie armored vehicle at an observation post outside Sevare, on January 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Adama Drabo, 16, sits in the police station in Sevare, Mali, on January 25, 2013. Drabo, who said he was captured traveling without papers by Malian troops and eventually handed over to Gendarmes in Sevare, was arrested on suspicion of working for Islamic militant group MUJAO and caught trying to flee south, Police said. A farmer's son from Niono, he admitted to having worked in the kitchens of a jihadist training base in Douentza for the past month. Drabo said his only motivation in joining the Islamic militant group had been to earn a wage, having struggled to find work at home, and that he was one of the youngest recruits on the base. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #

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