French, Mali forces head toward Timbuktu

By the Associated Press | January 27, 2013 | 4:32 AM EST

In this image taken during an official visit organized by the Malian army to the town of Konna, some 680 kilometers (430 miles) north of Mali's capital Bamako, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, a Malian army armored vehicle used by islamist rebels stands charred. One wing of Mali's Ansar Dine rebel group has split off to create its own movement, saying that they want to negotiate a solution to the crisis in Mali, in a declaration that indicates at least some of the members of the al-Qaida linked group are searching for a way out of the extremist movement in the wake of French air strikes. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

SEVARE, Mali (AP) — A Malian military spokesman says French and Malian troops are patrolling the critically important city of Gao in northern Mali.

Lt. Col. Diarran Kone, a spokesman for Mali's defense minister, said Sunday that the forces have maintained their hold over a key bridge as well as the airport.

The French military announced on Saturday that Gao had been liberated from radical Islamist rule, though other officials said the fight was still in progress late Saturday.

The taking of Gao's airport marked the biggest advance yet in the effort to retake the north. The Islamists also have controlled the towns of Timbuktu and Kidal since last April.

French and Malian forces were also advancing toward Timbuktu on Sunday.