The Guardian reports
that at least three children are among the dead civilians.
France launched 'Operation Serval,'
an attempt to halt and roll back the southward advance of Islamist revolutionaries who have won control of the northern half of Mali, on Friday. The Western-backed Malian government, which seized power in a 2012 military coup
led by US-trained Captain Amadou Sanogo
, invited France to assist its war against the rebels. France deployed combat aircraft and special forces troops.
French fighter planes have been bombarding rebel training camps, arms and oil depots, delivering crippling blows and helping Malian forces to retake the strategic town of Konna, which is located some 435 miles (700 km) northwest of the capital Bamako and had been briefly captured
by Ansar Dine
fighters last week. Unlike some of the other militant groups
fighting against the government, Ansar Dine does not seek independence but rather the implementation of strict Sharia law throughout Mali. The group is affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
The French bombing has taken a heavy toll on the insurgents.
"Mali is now at the mercy of the French army," a Malian government official told the Guardian
. "They are bombing the north, they have killed many terrorists. The Islamists have been running into the desert-- they have deserted Gao and Timbuktu."
In Gao, residents said French warplanes bombed the airport and the local headquarters of the dreaded Islamic police.
Still, Al Jazeera reports
that the rebels have continued their southward advance despite the French bombing and have actually moved closer to the capital after capturing the garrison town of Diabaly on Monday.
In addition to French forces, troops from neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger have been deployed and are expected to join the fighting soon. Britain
is sending aircraft to provide "logistical military assistance" to the French as well.
The United States has expressed its support
for the French military action, saying it shares the French goal of "denying terrorists safe haven in the region."
Some 400 French troops have been sent to Bamako to protect French citizens living there. France controlled Mali as a colony from 1892 until independence was achieved in 1960. Francois Hollande, France's Socialist president, said his country's troops would remain in Mali "as long as necessary."
"We will strengthen our operation depending on the situation," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. "The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe."
The United Nations has approved
an African-led military intervention in Mali with the goal of reunifying the nation and expelling the Islamists. The UN Security Council has called for the "swift deployment" of 3,000 troops to accomplish this task.