French troops reclaim Malian city from militants

Diabaly residents look at charred pickup trucks destroyed by French airstrikes in Diabaly, Mali. Photo: REUTERS/Joe Penney

Five burnt out cars lie at the entrance to liberated Diabaly. Nearby, the stench of death rises from the window of an army vehicle discarded by the side of the road; we glimpse at the bodies of four Malian soldiers, presumably slaughtered by jihadists, inside.

We follow the destructive trail left by the Islamist army which stormed through the town a few days ago. They ruined the church, they looted the pharmacy, they destroyed homes. They were joined by defected Malian soldiers, according to some local residents.

But before they left to race north, fleeing French bombs, it seems that they made one last stop. They broke into the town's only bank and robbed it of the equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds.

So when they fled, they left with a great deal of money. And given the amount of bullets and weapons that they were willing to dump, they had a surplus of arms too.

According to one eyewitness, 48 vehicles filled with rebels raced from the town with as many as 200 fighters inside.

Some may have headed north into the desert - others went into the forest. Many are almost certainly scattered amongst the community.

As the French advance north they are progressing slowly - perhaps slower than they'd envisaged - in the knowledge that their enemy is melting away but hasn't disappeared.