GAO: Malian government troops fought gunbattles with Islamist insurgents in the streets of the northern town of Gao yesterday, highlighting fragile security in zones recently recaptured by a French-led military offensive.
Gunfire resounded through the sandy streets and mud-coloured houses of the ancient town on the Niger River, just hours after French and Malian forces reinforced a checkpoint that was attacked for the second time in two days by a suicide bomber.
A fast-moving French military intervention launched last month in its former Sahel colony has driven al Qaeda-allied fighters from Mali’s main northern towns, such as Gao and Timbuktu, into the northeast Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.
But with Mali’s weak army unable to secure recaptured zones, and the deployment of a larger African security force slowed by delays and kit shortages, there are fears the Islamist jihadists will hit back with more guerrilla raids and suicide bombings.
Malian army officers said the north Gao checkpoint came under attack late on Saturday by a group of Islamist rebels who fired from a road and bridge that lead north through the desert scrub by the Niger River to Bourem, 80 km (50 miles) away.