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France pounds Islamist strongholds in northern Mali

Published on Jan 14, 2013 6:05 AM
A picture taken and released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) on Jan 13, 2013, shows French fighter jets arriving at Kossei camp in N'Djamena. France is using air and ground power in a joint offensive with Malian soldiers launched on Jan 11 against hardline Islamist groups controlling northern Mali. -- PHOTO : AFP

BAMAKO (AFP) - French jets pounded the Islamist strongholds of Gao and Kidal in northern Mali on Sunday, forcing insurgents to flee on the third day of a game-changing intervention that has been met with relief by the population and spurred the region into action.

"Stopping the terrorists - it's done," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "Today we started taking care of the terrorists' rear bases." Rafale fighter planes struck bases used by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Gao, the main city in northern Mali and the base from which ethnic-Tuareg rebels a year ago launched the offensive that touched off Mali's descent into chaos.

France also targeted a large base in the northern region of Kidal, a security source said, targeting an area where rebels had stocked munitions and fuel.

In addition to the Rafales, former colonial ruler France has used Gazelle helicopters and Mirage jets since it launched the operation on Friday to counter the rebel push south.

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