PARIS - French troops have taken control of the airport in the town of Kidal, one of the last major rebel strongholds in northern Mali.

French Armed Forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard confirmed Wednesday that French troops had landed overnight in Kidal – the third biggest city in northern Mali after Gao and Timbuktu --  and said they had taken control of the airport, Le Nouvel Observateur reports.


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The French arrival in Kidal only 24 hours after securing Timbuktu is another sign that France is aiming at a lightening offensive, to avoid getting mired in Mali for years to come.

"It was always part of the plan to liberate Gao and Timbuktu very quickly," France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Parisien on the plane taking him from Paris to a donor conference about Mali in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "Now, it's up to African countries to pick up the baton. We decided to take the necessary measures to succeed in this mission and make quick progress. But the French presence is not meant to be there for the long haul. We will be leaving quickly."

During the conference in Addis Ababa, international donors pledged 377 million euros ($455 million) for an African-led force (known as AFISMA) to help clear northern Mali of Islamist militants -- with funds coming from the United States and the European Union.

Financial and logistical support will also be lent by Japan and the UK; on Tuesday, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron announced that 350 British troops were to be sent to Africa to help the French-led efforts that started two weeks ago, The Guardian reports.