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U.S. provides support for French troops in Mali

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 7:10 p.m.

SEGOU, Mali — American planes transported French troops and equipment to Mali, a U.S. military spokesman said on Tuesday, as Malian and French forces pushed into the Islamist-held north.

The town of Douentza had been held by Islamist rebels for four months, 120 miles northeast of Mopti, the previous line-of-control held by the Malian military in Mali's narrow central belt. The Islamist fighters have controlled the vast desert stretches of northern Mali, with the weak government clinging to the south, since a military coup in the capital in March unleashed chaos.

French and Malian troops arrived in Douentza on Monday to find that the Islamists had retreated from it, said a resident, Sali Maiga. “The Malian military and the French army spent their first night, and the people are very happy.”

In September, a convoy of pickups carrying bearded men entered Douentza, and in the months that followed the Islamist extremists forced women to wear veils and enlisted children as young as 12 as soldiers in training.

French and Malian forces also took the town of Diabaly, which lies 120 miles west of Mopti, on Monday once Islamist fighters who had seized it a week earlier fled amid French air strikes.

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