Bamako: Islamist militants have been driven out of Konna, a city the extremists captured earlier this week, as French forces have launched military operations in north Mali, a Mali military official said on Saturday.
Lt Col Diarran Kone said the military does not yet control the city of Konna and are still searching for any hidden Islamist extremist elements there.
"The Islamists have been chased out of the city of Konna. We are doing sweeps of the city to find any hidden Islamist extremist elements," said Lt Col Kone. "The full recover of the city is too early to determine as we do not yet control the city, and we remain vigilant."
Sanda Abu Mohammed, spokesman for Islamist group Ansar Dine, told The Associated Press he could not confirm if his fighters were still in Konna because communication networks have been down since late yesterday.
"I cannot tell you if our fighters are still in the city of Konna or if they are not, because since yesterday afternoon I have not had contact with them as the telephone network has been down in this zone," Mohammed said.
For the past nine months, the militants have controlled a large swath of northern Mali, a lawless desert region where kidnapping has flourished.
France launched airstrikes yesterday to help the government of Mali defeat the al-Qaeda-linked militants who captured Konna on Thursday, pushing closer to the army`s major base in central Mali and dramatically raising the stakes in the battle for this vast desert nation.
French President Francois Hollande said the "terrorist groups, drug traffickers and extremists" in northern Mali "show a brutality that threatens us all." He vowed that the operation would last "as long as necessary."
France said it was taking the action in Mali at the request of President Dioncounda Traore, who declared a state of emergency because of the militants` advance.
"French armed forces supported Malian units this afternoon to fight against terrorist elements," Hollande said in Paris yesterday.
He did not give any details of the operation, other than to say that it was aimed in part at protecting the 6,000 French citizens in Mali, where seven of them already are being held captive.
French commandoes also reportedly attacked an Islamist base in Somalia to try to rescue a French hostage.
The raid early today in Somalia could have been aimed at preventing al-Shabab fighters from harming the kidnapped French security official in reprisal for the French military intervention in Mali.