Paris has poured hundreds of soldiers into Mali and carried out 50 bombing raids since Friday in the Islamist-controlled northern half of the country, which Western and regional states fear could become a base for terrorist attacks in Africa and Europe.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that, despite French air support, Malian forces had not been able to dislodge Islamist fighters from the central Malian towns of Konna or Diabaly, just 350 km (220 miles) northeast of Bamako…

Thousands of African soldiers are due to take over the offensive. Regional armies are scrambling to accelerate an operation which was initially not expected until September and has been brought forward by France’s surprise bombing campaign aimed at stopping a rebel advance on a strategic town last week.