On the Warpath with France’s Avant-Garde

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On Jan. 16, just days after France announced its military intervention in Mali to reclaim territory seized by Islamist rebels, Italian photojournalist Fabio Bucciarelli arrived in Bamako. For the next two weeks, he followed French troops as they prepared to shell the central town of Diabaly, passing through places such as Niono and Ségou. As French airstrikes drove militants back and ground troops reclaimed town after town, Bucciarelli traced their advance from the country's western front line to the north.

Bucciarelli told Foreign Policy that attempting to capture the action was a challenge. French-led forces imposed a "strong media blackout" through checkpoints and blockades. "We only had the possibility to cover the aftermath," he said. "There is no photo of the real war in Mali."

Here are some of the striking images he was able to capture while following in the footsteps of the French invasion.

Above, a Malian soldier awaits the arrival of the French Army in the town of Niono on Jan. 20. 

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French soldiers stand guard in Niono, roughly 40 miles from the front line in Diabaly, on Jan. 20.

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Malian civilians celebrate the arrival of the French Army in Niono on Jan. 20.

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A Malian refugee prays at the Malian military base in Niono. 

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Malian children play in the wreckage of a rebel pickup truck near Diabaly on Jan. 21. The car was destroyed by French shelling.

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A church destroyed by rebels when they conquered Diabaly.

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Malian citizens return to Diabaly on Jan. 22 after French-led forces reclaimed the town.

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Residents of Niono gather to watch the early morning departure of a French helicopter.

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French soldiers play cards at a temporary base in Niono.

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At their Niono headquarters, French soldiers get ready for an operation in Diabaly.

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A French soldier brushes his teeth before going to the front line in Diabaly. 

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Malian soldiers take possession of objects abandoned by jihadists in Niono's destroyed houses on Jan. 21.

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Majou, 14, is treated in Ségou hospital after being injured by French shelling in Diabaly on Jan. 24. 

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Malian women ride a public bus in the capital, Bamako, on Jan. 27. 

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A Malian soldier stands guard on a pickup truck in Niono on Jan. 20.

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