Diabaly Explosions rang out at 3 a.m. last week as the radical Islamists descended on the town of Diabaly, home to a Malian military camp. Residents cowering in their homes believed the Malian soldiers would protect them.
Instead dozens of Malian troops fled in fear, ripping off their uniforms and taking off on foot into the dark.
"We thought for sure the Malian army would hit back," said local resident Gaoussou Kone of the Jan. 14 attack. "We were surprised to learn that our soldiers ran away. There is no African country that is strong enough to fight these people on their own. They are too well-armed."
Returning to the central town Monday, after the Islamist extremists retreated, the Malian soldiers found the entrance to their military camp littered with charred cars and weapons destroyed by the French air strikes.
CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that France launched the strikes last week, as powerless Malian troops fled the militants' advance on Mali's capital. When Malian soldiers returned to the reclaimed towns, with the French soldiers, they found nothing but abandoned weapons and residents grateful for the rescue.
Inside, they found ransacked buildings which the Islamists had pillaged in search of food and weapons. Not even the cafeteria was spared, with pots and lids thrown about.
One thing the Islamists didn't take the gris-gris, or talismans, that members of the Malian military wore for protection, but the army will need more than charms to effectively fight the rebels.
Security experts have long expressed concern about the weakness of Mali's military and its inability to contribute forcefully in the international intervention against the Islamist extremists, who are well-armed and determined fighters.
When a Tuareg rebellion erupted in northern Mali more than a year ago, Malian soldiers complained that those sent to fight in the harsh desert environment were not given sufficient supplies, including arms and food. The fighting claimed the lives of numerous soldiers. Then, after the military coup in March 2012, the Malian army gave little to no resistance as the Islamists seized the major cities of northern Mali: Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal.
After holding northern Mali for several months, the Islamists went on the offensive again and seized the central Malian town of Diabaly on Jan. 14. But this time the French military was in Mali and began air strikes later that evening. Residents say the Islamists fled the town later in the week.
The Malian soldiers would not have been able to recapture the city without French help, according to many residents, including Modibo Sawadogo.
"We are happy about the presence of (foreign) soldiers who can reassure us because without them our military wouldn't be able to return," he said.