French and Malian troops regained control of the airport and bridge of the crucial, northern city of Gao on Saturday, marking their biggest advance yet in their bid to oust al-Qaida-linked extremists who have controlled northern Mali for months, military officials said.
The move comes just two weeks after France launched its military offensive in support of the shaky, central government of this former French colony. It is unclear what kind of resistance French and Malian troops will face in the coming days.
The French military said in a statement on its website that their special forces, which had stormed in by land and by air, had come under fire from "several terrorist elements" that were later "destroyed."
In a later press release entitled "French and Malian troops liberate Gao" the French ministry of defence said they were bringing back the town's mayor, Sadou Diallo, who had fled to the Malian capital of Bamako far to the west.
However, a city official interviewed by telephone by The Associated Press said coalition forces so far only controlled the airport, the bridge and surrounding neighbourhoods.
And in Paris, a defence ministry official clarified that the city had not been fully liberated, and that the process of freeing Gao was continuing.
Both officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.