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French Seize Control of 2 Mali Towns

  • Malian soldiers check  identity papers at a checkpoint set on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Malian soldiers check identity papers at a checkpoint set on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Malian soldiers check  identity papers at a checkpoint set on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Malian soldiers check identity papers at a checkpoint set on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A Malian well-wisher displays his French flag as French soldiers enter Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) north of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said.  The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A Malian well-wisher displays his French flag as French soldiers enter Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) north of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • French troops inspect the charred  remains of  military vehicles used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    French troops inspect the charred remains of military vehicles used by radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • French troops inspect the charred  remains of  military vehicles used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    French troops inspect the charred remains of military vehicles used by radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Travelers wait to be checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some  400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Travelers wait to be checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Residents walk past the charred  remains of  a truck used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Residents walk past the charred remains of a truck used by radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Residents walk past the charred  remains of  a truck used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Residents walk past the charred remains of a truck used by radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A Malian soldier mans a checkpoint  on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture  by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A Malian soldier mans a checkpoint on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A Malian soldier mans a checkpoint  on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture  by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A Malian soldier mans a checkpoint on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of  Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of  Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Travelers climb back on a transport truck after being checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Travelers climb back on a transport truck after being checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Travelers climb back on a transport truck after being checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Travelers climb back on a transport truck after being checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

  • Malian soldiers check  identity papers at a checkpoint set on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • Malian soldiers check  identity papers at a checkpoint set on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A Malian well-wisher displays his French flag as French soldiers enter Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) north of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said.  The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • French troops inspect the charred  remains of  military vehicles used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • French troops inspect the charred  remains of  military vehicles used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • Travelers wait to be checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some  400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • Residents walk past the charred  remains of  a truck used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • Residents walk past the charred  remains of  a truck used by  radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A Malian soldier mans a checkpoint  on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture  by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A Malian soldier mans a checkpoint  on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture  by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of  Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of  Diabaly, Mali,  some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • Travelers climb back on a transport truck after being checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • Travelers climb back on a transport truck after being checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. French troops encircled a key Malian town on Friday, trying to stop radical Islamists from striking against communities closer to the capital and cutting off their supply line, a French official said. The move around Diabaly came as French and Malian authorities said that the city whose capture prompted the French military intervention in the first place was no longer in the hands of the extremists.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirts of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
  • A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly,  Mali, some  460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013.  French and Malian troops were in the city whose capture by radical Islamists prompted the French military intervention. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Diabaly, Mali — French troops in armored personnel carriers rolled through the streets of Diabaly yesterday, winning praise from residents of this besieged town after Malian forces retook control of it with French help a week after radical Islamists invaded.

The Islamists also have deserted the town of Douentza, which they had held since September, according to a local official who said French and Malian forces arrived there on Monday as well.

The militants’ occupation of Diabaly marked their deepest encroachment into government-held territory, and yesterday’s retaking of the town is a significant victory for the French-led intervention.

Diabaly, located about 320 miles north of the capital of Bamako, fell into rebel hands on Jan. 14. Residents said those who fled in the aftermath were forced to escape on foot through rice fields.

“We are truly really grateful to the French who came in the nick of time,” said Gaoussou Kone, 34, the head of a local youth association. “Without the French, not only would there no longer be a Diabaly, there would soon no longer be a Mali. These people wanted to go all the way to Bamako.”

Yesterday, all that remained of the Islamists were the charred shells of their vehicles destroyed by the French air strikes. Three of them were clustered in one location, the machine gun cannon of one still pointing skyward.

The cluster of rebel vehicles was directly in front of the home of an elderly man, Adama Nantoume, who said the French bombs started falling at around 11 p.m. the same day that the Islamists occupied Diabaly.

“I was at home, sitting like this against the wall,” he said, showing how he had hugged his knees to his chest in a fetal position. “The plane came and the bombs started to fall. After that, I saw that the cars had caught on fire. And the explosions were so loud that for awhile I thought I had gone deaf. I was suffocated by the smoke and the light burned my eyes. The gas made me cry.”

Islamists had seized Diabaly just days after the French began their military operation on Jan. 11. The offensive is aimed at stopping the Islamists from encroaching toward the capital in Mali’s south from their strongholds in the vast, desert north where they have been amputating the hands of thieves and forcing women to wear veils over the last nine months.

Malian military officials reported late Saturday that they had retaken the town after Islamists fled, but French officials later said Sunday that the town had not been recaptured.

Yesterday, about 200 French infantrymen supported by six combat helicopters and reconnaissance planes made their way to Diabaly.

Associated Press reporters saw French troops in camouflage uniforms take up positions in front of a Malian military camp in the town yesterday.

“With the help of the French troops it’s reassuring, but we must search, and search some more. There may still be a few pockets of enemy resistance,” said a Malian army commander who gave only his last name, Samassa.

The Islamist fighters had insinuated themselves with civilians before leaving, so there was a possibility that some had remained. Malian soldiers on Diabaly’s outskirts set up a roadblock south of the town where they checked the identity papers of travelers.

Farther north in Douentza, local town adviser Sali Maiga told The Associated Press that French and Malian forces came into the town around 11 a.m. local time to find no sign of the Islamist rebels.

The militants, who captured Douentza back in September, had deserted the town last week, Maiga said.

In an interview with France-5 TV, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the air strikes in Mali had caused “significant” — though unspecified — losses among the jihadists, and only minor skirmishes involved French forces on the ground.