French, Malian forces retake town seized by Islamists

French and Malian soldiers wrested control of the central town of Diabaly from Islamist rebels on Friday, its mayor said, and West African reinforcements arrived in Bamako to take on the insurgents dominating the north of Mali.

France, warning that Islamist control over Mali's vast desert north threatens the security of Africa and the West, had targeted Diabaly in an eighth day of air strikes aimed at dislodging hardened al Qaeda-linked fighters there.

"Soldiers are in the town carrying out mopping up operations," Diabaly Mayor Oumar Diakite told Reuters by telephone. "There are lots of burned-out vehicles that the Islamists tried to hide in the orchards."

A commander in the Malian army in nearby Markala said ground forces were operating in Diabaly, which lies about 360 km northeast of Bamako, but could not confirm that the town, seized by Islamists on Monday, had been recaptured.

If officially confirmed, it would be a second military success for the French-led military alliance after Islamists Thursday night abandoned Konna, to the north of the central garrison Sevare. Armed with weapons seized from Libya after the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the Islamist alliance of al-Qaeda's North African wing AQIM and home-grown Malian groups Ansar Dine and MUJWA has put up staunch resistance.

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