KIDAL: French and Malian troops are fighting Islamist rebels in the Sahara outside northern Mali’s biggest town, France’s defence minister said today, describing the desert campaign against al Qaeda as a ‘real war’ that was far from won.
After driving the Islamists from north Mali’s main towns with three weeks of air strikes and a lightning ground advance, France is now pursuing them in the remote northeast where pro-autonomy Tuaregs are pressing their own territorial claims.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French and Malian joint patrols were searching the scrubland outside the desert trading towns of Timbuktu and Gao.
Gao residents said yesterday the town was hit by rebel rockets fired from the bush.
French troops are cooperating with Tuareg pro-autonomy MNLA rebels who say they have occupied the remote northeastern town of Kidal and surrounding areas after the Islamist fighters fled French air strikes into the nearby Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.