In addition to Gao and Konna, other targets have included Douentza, Lere and, late Sunday, the small locality of Agharous Kayoune, as well as Alatona, a rice growing region on the strategic route to the military camp of Diabaly, residents and officials said.
Residents are streaming out of the towns that have been hit. In Lere, people were heading across the nearby border to Mauritania, adding to the hundreds of thousands of refugees already displaced by the crisis in Mali.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed Sunday that the United States is providing communications and transport assistance. Over the weekend, a U.S. official confirmed that America will be sending drones. Britain has dispatched two, C17 aircrafts to France to help Mali’s allies transport troops. Four nations in West Africa have pledged to send hundreds of soldiers, including 500 each from Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal, as well as from Nigeria.
Additionally, Fabius said Denmark and other European countries are also helping, according to an interview with RTL radio. On Monday, the United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss the crisis in Mali, said Brieuc Pont, a spokesman for the French U.N. Mission said.
French and Malian officials say the lightning offensive has halted the rebels’ advance. ‘‘The Islamist offensive has been stopped,’’ Fabius said. ‘‘Blocking the terrorists ... we've done it.’’
However, the rebels still control the northern half of Mali, representing the largest area under the grip of al-Qaida and its allies in the world.
The region is larger than Afghanistan, and throughout it, the bearded and turbaned fighters have imposed their unyielding form of Islam. Music is banned, as are cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol. Women are regularly flogged in public for offenses ranging from not covering their ankles to wearing perfume or make-up.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton, Sylvie Corbet and Elaine Ganley in Paris; Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania; Robbie Corey-Boulet in Ivory Coast and Cassandra Vinograd and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.