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AFISMA / MICEMA / Serval

Bridges from Bamako

After several days of contradictory reports, it’s now certain that the armed Islamist fighters who had taken over the town of Diabaly, in Mali’s central region of Segou, have departed. Events in Diabaly over the last two weeks offer useful clues about the abilities and qualities of the three armed forces involved — Islamist, Malian government, and French.

This small town, population approximately 15,000, is located on the vast plain north of the Niger River, amid rice fields and irrigation canals dug during the French colonial era. Before dawn on January 14, as reported by Alan Boswell of McClatchy Newspapers, a column of several dozen Islamist vehicles moved toward Diabaly, entering not by the northern main road where Malian troops were waiting, but from the south, flanking the town and catching its defenders by surprise.

The Malian army collapsed quickly, some of its soldiers taking off their uniforms…

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