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French bomb northern Mali

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By The Associated Press
Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

GOSSI, Mali — French troops launched airstrikes on Islamic militant training camps and arms depots around Kidal and Tessalit in Mali's far north, defense officials said on Sunday, as the first supply convoy of food, fuel and parts to eastern Mali headed across the country.

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,” Burkhard said. He said there were 30 planes used in the operation including Mirage and Rafale jets.

The French intervened in Mali on Jan. 11 to stem the advance of the al-Qaida-linked fighters. Though they succeeded in ousting the rebels from the three main northern cities they occupied, including the fabled city of Timbuktu, Sunday's aerial operation highlights that the French still view militants in the extreme northern area near the border with Algeria as a threat.

“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.

As the French bombarded in the north, they neared the eastern town of Gao with its first supply convoy since the conflict began.

Crowds along the roads heading northeast from Sevare toward Gao on Sunday thronged the roads screaming “Vive la France!” and old men in long flowing robes on bicycles held onto the handlebars with one hand to wave as soldiers passed by. Even camels grazing in acacia trees perked up as the 62-vehicle convoy spanning 3 miles lumbered by.

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