May 19, 2013
French troops deploy in last of Mali rebel strongholds
French troops have taken control of the airport in the northern Malian town of Kidal, the last rebel stronghold in the north, the French army and a local official told reporters today.
Kidal would be the last of northern Mali's major towns to be retaken by French forces, which retook Gao and Timbuktu earlier this week in a campaign to drive al Qaeda-linked Islamists from Mali's north.
"They arrived late last night and they deployed in four planes and some helicopters," Haminy Belco Maiga, president of the regional assembly of Kidal said, adding he had seen no early indications of resistance from rebel forces.
French Armed Forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard confirmed in Paris that French troops were in Kidal and said they had taken control of the airport.
"The operation is continuing," he said, declining to give further details.
It was not immediately clear whether the French troops were accompanied by Malian forces.
Tuareg MNLA rebels who want greater autonomy for the desert north said earlier this week that they had taken control of Kidal after Islamists abandoned the town.
The MNLA, which fought alongside the Islamists before being sidelined by them in mid-2012, was not immediately available for comment on the French deployment.
Kidal is the capital of a desert region with the same name into which Islamist fighters are believed to have retreated during nearly three weeks of French air strikes and a joint advance by thousands of French and Malian ground troops.