BAMAKO, Mali — French airstrikes in Mali pushed back Islamist rebels from a key village and destroyed a rebel command center, France said Saturday. Meanwhile, West African nations authorized what they said would be a fast deployment of troops in support of Mali’s weak government.
France began to intervene Friday after an appeal by Mali’s President Dioncounda Traore. Bombs were dropped and rockets were fired from helicopter gunships and jet fighters after the Islamist rebels who control the north of Mali pressed southward, overrunning the village of Konna.
Military operations continued Saturday, officials said.
A Malian army spokesman said some civilians and Malian soldiers had died in the effort to retake Konna. French officials said one French pilot had also died.
France, the United States, and other Western nations worry about the Islamists’ tightening grip on the north, which they said was becoming a haven for militants, including those with links to al-Qaeda.
West African nations authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali, hastening an intervention that was to start in September.
Konna is within 30 miles of Mopti. Many say if Mopti were to fall, the Islamists could seize the rest of Mali. The potential was “a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday.