French-led forces have now apparently taken Timbuktu, a day after seizing its airport in a lightning advance against the jihadist militias that held northern Mail. Gao is also under the control of French and Malian troops, leaving only Kidal still in rebel hands among the major towns in Mali's desert north. The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has agreed to boost its troop committment for Mali to 5,700—now that (unless an insurgency is to follow) France has already done the bulk of the fighting. In very sad news, the jihadist forces upon fleeing Timbuktu for the desert, apparently torched the Ahmed Baba Institute—a library housing a priceless collection of centuries-old Islamic manuscripts. "They burned the Ahmed Baba Institute," Timbuktu's exiled Mayor Halle Ousmane Cisse said from Bamako. "It's a catastrophe—for Timbuktu and all humanity." (Middle East Online, DPA, NYT, Jan. 28)
Is there anyone else out there who still thinks the jihadists have been "demonized" by an "Islamophobic" Western media? As these hoodlums destroy one of Islam's proudest cultural legacies because it fails to conform to their ultra-fundamentalist interpretations?
Meanwhile, the secular Tuareg separatist rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) issued a statement claiming responsibility for the liberation of areas of northern Mali from the jihadists: "Today, January 28, 2013, the MNLA drove the terrorists from several cities in Azawad… The MNLA is fully integrated in the fight against the terrorist organizations present in Azawad…" The only recognition of French leadership of the military drive is a line stating that the MNLA has asked France "to implement coordination measures to conduct the fight against terrorism." The statement calls for negotiations "to find a definitive solution to the conflict between the Azawad at central state of Mali."
Later that day, Reuters reported claims by the MNLA to have taken Kidal, after driving out the Ansar Dine jihadist faciton that was in control there. "Now it is us who are in control," Col. Mohamed Ag Najim, the MNLA's military commander, told a reporter by satellite phone. If this is true and the MNLA really do control Kidal, it will be interesting to see if they surrender the town to French and Malian forces, or are allowed to build their own reduced autonomous state there—or if a new war will now open, pitting the French against Tuareg rebels.
On a lighter note, ABC News finds that many Twitter users are apparently astounded to find that Timbuktu actually exists. Reads one clueless tweet: "I was really surprised to find Timbuktu was a real place. I thought it was a made up place like Narnia." Reminds us of the ignorant media blather after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 about how Kafiristan was a fictional creation of Rudyard Kipling.