(TIMBUKTU, Mali) — The coalition effort to drive Islamist militants out of the North African country of Mali was highlighted Monday by French and Malian troops entering the ancient city of Timbuktu.
While there were reports that the al Qaeda-linked fighters had fled the city, it was unclear whether joint forces had gained full control of Timbuktu, which had been in rebel hands for most of last year.
French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday evening that “French and Malian forces are liberating the city. It’s not completely finished, but it’s well on its way.”
Tragically, the militants allegedly destroyed mausoleums and manuscripts that date back to the 15th century.
Still, most Malians in Timbuktu were said to have been overjoyed with the arrival of government and French soldiers.
In other developments, secular Tuareg rebels, who are allied with the Malian government, claimed to have taken over the northern city of Kidal after Islamist fighters had abandoned it.
The French, who have many nationals living in Mali, began their offensive against the militants earlier this month when the Islamists began moving from their strongholds in the north to the capital of Bamako.
The U.S. and other nations have been providing the French with logistical support to prevent the spread of al Qaeda in the region.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Samantha Beech, CNN
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN