After Konna's fall and given worrying progress of radical Islamists towards Mopti, interim Malian president Dioncounda Traoré officially asked for France's military help to counter the Jihadist offensive. He is planned to address the Nation in the evening of Friday January 11th on national television.
That tells volumes about the emergency situation in Mali.
« French decisions will be announced in Paris tomorrow (Friday)», said the French ambassador to the UN.
The UN Security Council adopted on Thursday a resolution approved by its 15 members asking for "quick deployment" of the international force in Mali given «grave deterioration of situation on the field»
US ambassador Susan Rice told that Bamako had asked for external support, in particular from France. Describing President Traoré's letter to François Hollande, she explained: « It was saying, in summary: "help, France" ! ».
One of the witnesses working at the airport told about Whites being among the soldiers. « I saw arrival of C-160 (military transport) cargos. They unloaded weapons and men. Some of the men had white skins.», said this worker in Sévaré airport (more than 650 km to Bamako's north).
Islamists who seized control of northern part of Mali months ago are described in this October 2012 piece by BBC:
Mali Islamists 'buying child soldiers, imposing Sharia'
Islamists who seized control of part of Mali are amassing money from ransoms and drug trafficking while imposing Sharia law, says a senior UN official.
They are also buying child soldiers, paying families $600 (£375) per child, Ivan Simonovic said after a fact-finding visit to the country.
Women's rights were being particularly restricted, said Mr Simonovic, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, citing the compilation of a "frightening" list of unmarried women who were pregnant or had borne children.
More women were being forced into marriage - with a wife costing less than $1,000 - and some were then being resold in "a smokescreen for enforced prostitution", added Mr Simonovic.
So far, he said, there had been three public executions, eight amputations and two floggings.
No rights for women, up to and including forced prostitutions, purchase of child soldiers, inhumane punishments... The works.
For several months, the French government has been wringing its hands about intervention or not - the Malian government asks for it, so as to get rid of Jihadists and recover control of their legitimate territory. A force was approved, its deployment was to begin... oh so slowly.
Now, the emergency is there.
«We are now in Konna for jihad», said on Thursday a representative of armed group Ansar Dine, Abdou Dardar. «We control the city almost in totality. Then we are going to continue». He affirmed to be talking in the name of the three Jihadist groups presently occupying the North, Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi) and Mujao.
Deployment of this 3,000-strong force was authorized by the Security Council on December 20th but will take several weeks, if not months. Witnesses contacted by AFP said the Army had abandoned Konna.
According to this generally well-informed military blog,
A defense council was held this morning (Friday) at the Elysée on the issue. "We are facing naked aggression puting in jeopardy the very existence of Mali" declared François Hollande afterwards.
Sévaré (where forces were unloaded from planes) is less than 60 kilometers from the city of Konna, now held by jihadists. To be clear, Western forces are now facing a thousand Islamist fighters - said to have a column of a hundred weaponized 4x4. France has enough air capability in the vicinity (N'Djaména) to give a serious pause to a moving column.
I don't have a very high idea of Hollande. But I can't imagine him doing nothing in face of naked aggression against a friendly country by a hord of Jihadists. I earnestly hope that minimum level of confidence not to be misplaced...