France Attacks Islam in Mali: Operation Serval
France has declared its silent war on Islam in Mali against the Mahgreb group that is affiliated with al-Qaeda. After a year of waiting for the United Nations to act and create a coalition of African nations to combat the group and not being effective, France lost patience and directly intervened on January 11th, sending Gazelle and Tiger helicopters from the Fourth Special Forces Helicopter Regiment using 20mm cannons and advanced anti-tank missiles to target rebel vehicles and positions. Their Mirage 2000D and Rafale jets armed with laser precision guided Hammer bombs (similar to JDAM American bombs) hit their rear bases now that rebels are out in the open. French troops, a company from the 2nd Marine Regiment, French Foreign Legion and another company from France brought 750 troops to Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The initial French force halted or stalled the al-qaeda advance but they quickly circumvented by making an "end-run" around the front lines and attacking from the flank taking the town of Diabaly, causing shock, being close to the capital where 6000 French citizens live. This prompted France to send another 2500 soldiers
The al-Qaeda group has no more than 2000 well armed men. They have mostly AK-47, heavy machine guns, RPG, and even some SA-7 anti-air missiles. Their mobility comes from numerous trucks, captured APC's and a few tanks.
France does not have a UN mandate to intervene and they severely criticized the US intervention into Iraq. Russia and China have agreed to look the other way since all of the African countries want France there because the Mali 4000 man army is very unreliable when facing al-Qaeda. What France hopes to do is to stop and then remove the threat, then, get the UN peacekeepers in. Whether this works or not remains to be seen because al-Qaeda will not let Mali go without a fight there and in France with terrorist attacks.