SEVARE, Mali (AP) — French forces met no resistance Wednesday in Kidal, the Islamists’ last major town, as the two-week-old mission scored another success in its effort to dislodge the al-Qaida-linked militants from northern Mali.
The capture of Kidal came just days after French and Malian forces retook two other provincial capitals – Gao and Timbuktu – that also had been under harsh Islamic rule for nearly 10 months.
“Nobody questions France’s rapid deployment but the ability to hold on to the cities and territory is an immense challenge. It is not clear how they will be able to sustain the recent gains,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House.
“The Islamist extremists have not been defeated; they have melted into the heat haze of the desert.”
Many fear the Islamists now will attempt to hide among civilian populations in small outlying villages, only to return and attack the weaker African forces once the French are gone.
The Islamists are believed to have an elaborate system of caves and other desert hideouts that they have constructed over the last year as momentum for a West African regional military intervention stalled.
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