Tension remains high in Gao after a pitched battle over the weekend as French troops beat back an attempt by MUJAO fighters to retake the remote northern Malian city. Jihadist fighters succeeded succeeded in taking a cluster of buildings in the center of town, including the former administrative building that had been used by MUJAO "Islamic police." After the builging was destroyed in a French helicopter assault, fighting ensued for hours over the ruins. French President Francois Hollande said his goal is that "not one space of Mali's territory be under the control of terrorists." A death toll could not immediately be established, but Col. Mamadou Sanake of the Malian army said, "Many Islamists were killed."
Claiming responsibility for the attack, MUJAO spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui said: "The combat will continue until victory, thanks to God's protection." At least three civilians and two Malian soldiers are confirmed dead in the fighting. Some 4,000 French soldiers and Chadian 2,000 are currently deployed in Mali. US President Barack Obama pledged Feb. 11 to allocate $50 millio for "immediate military assistance" to Chad and the France for the Malian operation. (AFP, Mali Actualités, Al Jazeera, Middle East Online, Feb. 11)