FRANCE 24, FRANCE TV INFO, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE (France), REUTERS
PARIS - French forces, supported by the Mali army have captured both the rebel strongholds of Timbuktu and Gao in a fast-moving offensive against Al Qaeda-linked fighters occupying northern Mali.
Battling together to loosen the grip of Islamist fighters in the country’s north, French and Malian troops have taken control of Timbuktu’s airport, before working towards securing the town itself, France 24 reports.
The advancing troops met no resistance from the insurgents who had held the town since last year – but fleeing rebels set fire to the newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute containing thousands of priceless manuscripts, Timbuktu’s mayor told Reuters.
The joint operation, led by special forces supported by French aircraft, allowed the troops to regain control over the northern part of the Niger river, known as the "Niger bend," Col. Thierry Burkhard, a French military spokesman in Paris told the Agence France Presse.
On Saturday, French-led troops recaptured the Islamist stronghold of Gao, the most populous city in northern Mali, in a spectacular boost to the fast-moving offensive that began two weeks ago, France 24 reports.