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Message Subject Watch as it Develops - The Staged War Against Islamists in Northern Mali
Poster Handle Chrit
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Snip; TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) French troops began to withdraw from Timbuktu Thursday after securing the fabled city as they ramped up their mission in another northern Mali city, searching for Islamic extremists who may be mixing among the local population.

French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said Thursday that the operation to secure Gao is still under way, nearly two weeks after French and Malian troops moved into the area. New clashes nearby raised questions about how solid a hold the French military has on the strategic area.

There is a risk of "residual presence" of terrorists mixed among the population, Burkhard said from Paris. Extremists fired rocket launchers at French troops near Gao on Tuesday.

France launched a military operation in Mali on Jan. 11 to help the Malian government restore control. Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaida had imposed severe rule in northern Mali then started pushing toward the capital last month.

In a sign of heightened security, authorities briefly detained three Tuareg men in Gao on Thursday who were stopped after they did not have their identity papers. The men, who came from a nearby village, were in Gao because they had missed their bus to a nearby market. The mayor intervened and the men were released.

Meanwhile French troops began to draw out of Timbuktu, after greater successes in securing the desert city.

Snip2; "Our objective cannot be achieved with arms only," Fabius said in an interview on French television BFM.

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