“I’ve told the children not to play with the trucks but I can’t stop them,” said Adama Nantume, a retired farmer whose home was blackened by the laser-guided air strikes that landed meters from his door. “Everyone here is happy about what the French have done.”…

France says its military will leave once the Islamists are defeated and Mali is returned to stability, with the aid of an African force. But many Diabaly residents never want them to go.

“I hope that the French stay for eternity. If they leave, I will leave,” said Alou Gindou, a 46-year-old driver. “If it were not for the French, we would not be sitting here today.”

Many residents waved and roadside boutiques flew the tricolor flag as a column of French armored personnel carriers, jeeps and supply trucks trundled north along the route from the capital Bamako to reinforce Diabaly on Thursday.