In the face of fierce, all-night bombardment by the French military, Mali’s Islamist insurgents have hunkered down to fight again.

Barging into some of the mud-brick houses in the battle zone and ejecting residents, they have sought to implant themselves in the local population and add to the huge challenges facing the French military campaign to loosen their grip on Mali. …

Just five days into the French military campaign, it was becoming clear that airstrikes alone will probably not be enough to root out these battle-hardened fighters, who know well the harsh grassland and desert terrain of Mali and have spent months accumulating arms, constructing defenses in their northern strongholds and reinforcing their ranks with children as young as 12 years old.

Containing their southern advance toward Bamako, the capital, is proving more challenging than anticipated, French military officials acknowledged Tuesday. And with the Malian Army in disarray and no outside African force yet assembled, displacing the rebels from the country altogether appears to be an elusive, long-term challenge.