French jets pound Mali, civilians die

A French fighter aircraft prepared for take off at a base in Chad on Friday.

French aircraft have pounded Mali for a second day, killing several militants and a large number of civilians, a Malian rebel group says.

A spokesman for one of Mali’s rebel groups, Ansar Dine, said on Saturday that only five of the people killed by French airstrikes were members of the group.

However, the French bombardment left hospitals in the town of Konna overwhelmed with injured and dead, including many women, children, and elderly people, the Ansar Dine spokesman said.

A resident of the northern city of Gao also said hospitals in his city were full of injured and dead.

Human Rights Watch said 10 civilians, including three children, were killed during the airstrikes.

“Konna residents told Human Rights Watch some 10 civilians were killed in the fighting, including 3 children who drowned trying to cross the river to safety,” said Corinne Dufka, the senior West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The Malian troops drove the militants out of Konna, which was captured by militants on Thursday, after France intervened on Friday with airstrikes to halt advances by the rebels, who control the north of the West African country.

“We’ve already held back the progress of our adversaries and inflicted heavy losses on them,” French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday evening. “Our mission is not over yet.”

Malian officials say Nigeria and Senegal have sent ground forces to support government forces in the conflict.

Chaos broke out in the West African country after Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup on March 22, 2012. The coup leaders said they mounted the coup in response to the government’s inability to contain the Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country, which had been going on for two months.

However, in the wake of the coup d’état, the Tuareg rebels took control of the entire northern desert region, but the Ansar Dine extremists then pushed them aside and took control of the region, which is larger than France or Texas.