BAMAKO - French warplanes destroyed two militants bases in northern Mali as a leading Al Qaeda-linked group in the region split Thursday, with the breakaway group saying it wanted talks to end a Paris-led offensive against the militants. The French bombing raids overnight targeted Ansongo, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the town of Gao and extremist bases in the nearby village of the Seyna Sonrai, a Malian military source said on condition of anonymity. “French military planes successfully attacked rebels positions at Ansongo and nearby areas,” the source said. “The strikes were very successful and caused damage to the enemy.”
A security source in Niger confirmed the raids, saying “two main bases of the militants were destroyed” as well as their fuel stocks and armoury. More than 2,000 Chadian soldiers and 500 troops from Niger are being deployed at Ouallam in Niger, near the Mali border, to open a second front against the rebels as part of a UN-mandated African force to boost, and eventually take over, the two-week-long French-led campaign. The battle-hardened Chadian soldiers are adept at desert warfare and are experienced in putting down rebellions at home and in neighbouring countries. The first of the 6,000 troops pledged by African nations to support France started heading north, moving closer to the areas a trio of Al Qaeda-linked groups seized in April in the chaotic aftermath of a coup in Bamako. But cracks emerged in the rebel front when a faction announced it had broken away from Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith).