Malian Military Regains Control of Timbuktu

Despite the swift victory, Western nations like France and the U.S. say the intervention may last years.

Posted: 01/29/2013 11:32 AM EST

Malian citizens in the city of Timbuktu breathed a sigh of relief Monday as military troops entered and wrested control of the city from Islamic militants.

Supported by French forces, Malian troops surrounded the city and a campaign of bombing and ground operations dislodged the al-Qaeda-linked fighters from the strategic and historic city.

"The Malian military is in control of Timbuktu," Modibo Traore told the Associated Press Tuesday.

However, the victory was tempered by news that, before leaving Timbuktu, Islamists set fire to a building housing precious manuscripts.

Historically, Timbuktu was a center of Islamic learning and West Africa’s intellectual hub. Mosques and libraries containing tomes of historically significant manuscripts exist in Timbuktu and have been in danger of ruin ever since militants began controlling the area in early 2012.  

"These manuscripts are irreplaceable. They have the wisdom of the ages and it's the most important find since the Dead Sea Scrolls," Michael Covitt, chairman of the Malian Manuscript Foundation told AP about the documents destroyed in the fire set by Islamists.

Although the French-backed military campaign seems to be moving swiftly, France and the U.S, who are contributing logistics support, have admitted that they are unsure how long the entire operation will take.

"This is only the first phase. It is going to take time,” principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs Don Yamamoto told AP. "It is going to take a long time and time means that it could take several years. And you got do it right."

If the intervention does take years, it appears that there will be continued support. On Tuesday, the African Union called a meeting of African and Western nations who pledged more than $450 million to fund the African-led military force that will fight Mali’s Islamist extremists.

The U.S. will give $96 million toward the Mali operation, including $32 million in previously pledged funds.

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  (Photo:  ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

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