French, Malian forces advance on Timbuktu
On Sunday, France launched an air strike on a Mali-based house owned by Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of the Islamist militant group Defenders of Religion, media reports said.
The house was destroyed, but there was no immediate word on the fate of the owner.
Earlier, Mali’s army, supported by French troops, took control of the northern city of Gao.
In another development, Sunday saw the beginning of the deployment of Chadian and Nigerian troops to northern Mali.
Sunday saw the beginning of the deployment of Chadian troops to the city of Gao in northern Mali, where armed clashes between the army and radical Islamist insurgents show no signs of abating.
A total of 2,000 Chadian soldiers will be deployed along with 500 troops from Niger in order to help Mali’s army take better control of Gao and advance to the city of Timbuktu.
The war against Islamist militants in northern Mali including the deployment of African troops is expected to dominate talks at the African Union summit in Ethiopia opening Sunday.
A scaling-up of African troops is intended to support the weak Malian army -- boosted by the recent French military intervention -- to battle Islamist insurgents, who seized swathes of Mali's desert north following a coup last year.
The AU has said the priority is to send troops immediately to the embattled West African state.
African leaders are set to commit their support for the force, with presidents expected to also stay beyond the two-day summit for an international donor conference for Mali.
The conference on Tuesday will aim to drum up further funds for Mali operations and will include representatives from the European Union and the UN Security Council.
The Pentagon has agreed to refuel French warplanes that are currently conducting operations against Islamist militants in Mali, the US military said in a statement on Saturday.
President Barack Obama's administration had previously been asked by France for refueling assistance and outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has now approved the request, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Obama held telephone talks with French President Francois Hollande on Friday in which the two leaders discussed global security concerns and vowed to work together to tackle extremism across North Africa.
France deployed troops to Mali two weeks ago who have been working with government forces to try to flush out radical Islamist fighters including Al-Qaeda linked rebels who had seized control of several northern towns.
Following on from Obama and Hollande's discussion, Panetta spoke to French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss US military support "to deny terrorists a safe haven in Mali".
Voice of Russia, RIA, TASS, AFP