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French take last rebel stronghold in Mali

Jan. 30, 2013 at 8:08 AM

BAMAKO, Mali, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- French troops have reached Kidal, the last major town under rebel control in northern Mali, the French military said Wednesday.

French forces took control of the Kidal airport overnight, adding the Islamic militant stronghold to Timbuktu and Gao, cities that are no longer in the hands of militants, CNN reported.

Islamic extremists carved out a large portion in northern Mali last year taking advantage of a chaotic situation that followed a military coup.

They banned music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television, and destroyed historic tombs and shrines in the region.

French and Malian troops launched a lightning military ground campaign following a series of French airstrikes in recent days, The New York Times reported.

They took control of the towns of Gao and Timbuktu as Islamic rebels fled, possibly into Kidal province.

Col. Thierry Burkhard, a military spokesman in Paris, said the operation in Kidal has been ongoing since French troops reached the airport.

Kidal is the capital of a desert region of the same name.

Secular Tuareg rebels claimed to be in control of the town after Islamic militants fled.

France has 2,150 soldiers in Mali and some 1,000 additional troops are supporting the operation from elsewhere, CNN reported.

The United States is providing intelligence and airlift support while the United Kingdom has offered 240 troops for military training support.

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