PARIS (AP) — New French airstrikes targeted fuel depots and bases of Islamist extremists in northern Mali overnight, as the French military intervention turns away from cities and toward the radicals' desert outposts that had raised fears of a Saharan launchpad for international terrorism.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France-Inter radio Monday that the strikes hit the Kidal region, near the border with Algeria, for the second night in a row. The extremists "cannot stay there a long time unless they have ways to get new supplies," he said.
French Mirage and Rafale planes also pounded extremist training camps as well as arms and fuel depots from Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday, north of the town Kidal and in the Tessalit region.
The French intervened in Mali on Jan. 11 to stem the advance of the al-Qaida-linked fighters, who had taken over much of the African country and enforced harsh rules on the population.
After pushing extremists out of key cities, France is now pushing to hand over control of those sites to African forces from a U.N.-authorized force made up of thousands of troops from nearby countries.
"In the cities that we are holding we want to be quickly replaced by the African forces," Fabius said Monday.
Asked whether the French could pull out of the fabled city of Timbuktu and hand it to African forces as soon as Tuesday, Fabius responded, "Yes, it could happen very fast. We are working on it because our vocation is not to stay in the long term."
But it is far from clear that the African forces — much less the weak Malian army — are ready to see the thousands of French troops, fighter planes and helicopters withdraw and take full responsibility, in case the Islamic extremists attempt a comeback from their desert hideouts.