French and Malian troops were restoring government control over the fabled Saharan trading town of Timbuktu on Sunday, the latest gain in a fast-moving French-led offensive against al Qaeda-allied fighters occupying northern Mali.
The Islamist militant rebels have pulled back northwards to avoid relentless French air strikes that have destroyed their bases, vehicles and weapons, allowing French and Malian troops to advance rapidly with air support and armored vehicles.
A Malian military source said the French and Malian forces reached “the gates of Timbuktu” late on Saturday without meeting resistance from the Islamist insurgents who had held the town since last year.
The French and Malians controlled the airport and were working on securing the town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and labyrinth of ancient mosques and monuments and mud-brick homes, ready to flush out any Islamist fighters still hiding.
“Timbuktu is delicate, you can’t just go in like that,” the source, who asked not to be named, said. . .