French troops engaged in close-quarter combat with Islamist fighters on Wednesday in the Malian town of Diabaly in their first ground clashes after days of air strikes, security sources said.
"The special forces are currently in Diabaly, in close-quarter combat with the Islamists. The Malian army is also in place," a Malian security source said on condition of anonymity.
Diabaly is located 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Bamaka
The fighting was confirmed by a regional security source who said a convoy of French soldiers who had left Bamako on Tuesday was "on alert" in the town of Niono, 50 kilometres south of Diabaly, as well as in the nearby town of Markala.
Diabaly was seized on Monday by fighters led by Algerian Abou Zeid, one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the zone was home to "the toughest, most fanatical and best-organised groups. It's under way there but it's difficult."
by Michel MOUTOT Â© 2013 AFP
Date: Jan 16, 2013