PARIS (AP) — French troops launched airstrikes on Islamic militant sites around Kidal and Tessalit in Mali's far north, just a few hours after a triumphant visit by France's president, defense officials said Sunday.
French planes pounded extremist training camps as well as arms and fuel depots from Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday, according to French army Col. Thierry Burkhard.
"It was an important aerial operation to the north of the town Kidal and in the Tessalit region where we targeted logistical depots and Islamist training camps ... some 20 sites," said Burkhard.
"Here, there's still various Islamist groups like the MUJAO, and Ansar Dine," he said. The Islamic extremist group the Movement for Unity and Oneness of the Jihad, is known as MUJAO.
The aerial assaults come three weeks after France unilaterally launched a military intervention to stem the advance of the al-Qaida-linked fighters in Mali. Since then French troops have succeeded in ousting the rebels from the three main northern cities they occupied, including the fabled city of Timbuktu.
The continued attacks also came hours after French President Francois Hollande left Mali. On Saturday, he visited Timbuktu to a liberator's welcome. Thousands of people stood elbow-to-elbow behind a perimeter line in downtown Timbuktu, hoisting the homemade French flags they had prepared for Hollande's arrival to the northern desert city that French troops liberated last week after 10 months of control by al-Qaida-linked groups.
He then flew to Bamako, the capital, where he spoke before boarding a plane back to Paris. He stressed the successes of the French intervention, but warned that threats of extremism will continue.
"Terrorism has been rejected. It has been chased, but not yet beaten," Hollande said.
France has said that it eventually wants to hand over responsibility for the mission to the Malian army and other African counterparts.
In an interview with the Sunday's French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Tieman Coulibaly, expressed the government's hope that the French military operation carry on until the Islamists have no more weapons left.
"Faced with seasoned fighters whose arsenal must be destroyed, we wish the mission to continue," Coulibaly said. "Especially given how important the aerial dimension is."
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