France Takes Last Islamist Stronghold In Mali
According to the BBC, French troops first landed at and cleared the airport, and after waiting out a brief sandstorm, fanned out and secured the town, using both ground and air patrols to maintain safety.
Kidal was the last significant rebel-held town to be taken by the French, who captured the cities of Gao and Timbuktu from Islamists days earlier. Militant fighters put up no resistance and are believed to be hiding in the sparse desert of northern Mali, close to the Algerian border.
The Islamists, who are mainly affiliated with organizations like Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), hijacked a breakaway movement by indigenous Tuareg people seeking self-governance in northern Mali and used it to establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime in the area, gaining notoriety for provocative acts such as destroying ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu.
The Tuaregs, who have split with the Islamists, welcomed French forces, but are unwilling to accept the Malian state re-establishing control over their areas, as the BBC reports:
"Our correspondent says French forces who entered Kidal found members of the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) there.
The Tuareg rebels launched the insurgency last year before breaking away from the militants.
Their presence in Kidal explains why government troops have not yet been sent to the town, our correspondent adds.
The MNLA says it will support the French but will not allow the return of the Malian army, which it accused of 'crimes against the civilian population'."
French Foreign Minister pledged to exit Mali "quickly", leaving African armies to navigate the next phase of the battle against Islamist extremists in the north.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of Mali here.
Reach Executive Producer Matt Pressberg here.