French-led troops in Mali seize airport at Islamist bastion
BAMAKO (AFP) - French-led troops on Saturday seized the airport and a key bridge serving the Islamist stronghold of Gao in a major boost to a 16-day-old offensive to rout Al Qaeda-linked rebels from Mali's sprawling desert north.
The stunning advance came as the extremist Muslim group controlling Gao since June said it was ready for talks to free a 61-year-old French hostage kidnapped in November.
In a parallel movement, Chadian troops deployed in Mali's eastern neighbour Niger started rolling towards the border to join a contingent of Niger soldiers as part of African efforts to boost the French-led offensive.
"They are a very big contingent and they have tanks and four-wheel drives with machineguns," a Niger security source said.