French forces in Mali have seized the airport and the bridge over the Niger River at the Islamist rebel-held stronghold of Gao, the French Defence Ministry said on Saturday, January 26, according to Reuters.
French and Malian troops have advanced rapidly against al Qaeda-allied Islamist militant fighters holding the Saharan north of the West African state after France intervened earlier this month at the request of the Malian government.
The announcement from Paris showed that the French and Malian units were making quick progress in their northeastwards offensive against a coalition of Islamist groups that includes al Qaeda's North African wing, AQIM.
For two weeks, French jets and helicopter gunships have been harrying the retreating Islamists, destroying their vehicles, command posts and weapons depots. The French action had already halted a sudden Islamist offensive launched in early January that had threatened Mali's southern capital Bamako.
The French defense ministry statement quoted minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as saying that many of the Islamist fighters' vehicles and logistics bases had been destroyed.
News that the French forces were at Gao came as African states struggled to deploy a planned 6,000-strong African intervention force in Mali under a UN mandate.