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French Troops Launch Major Offensive Against Mali Islamists: Reports

French forces in Mali have launched a major offensive against Islamist militants north of the African country, media reports citing local officials said Monday.

The offensive involving at least 1,000 French troops reportedly began on Sunday in a river valley believed to be a logistics base for the armed Islamists near the northern Malian town of Gao. It is aimed at flushing out Islamist rebels who have been carrying out frequent attacks in Gao after having been driven out of the town in a recent French-led offensive.

Experts believe that the ongoing offensive would consolidate the Malian government's authority in areas recaptured earlier from Islamists. They expect it to be the last French military operation in Mali before Paris reduces its military presence in its former colony.

France began its military campaign in Mali on January 11 as the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) authorized foreign military intervention in the conflict after Islamist rebels captured several towns in central Mali and threatened to advance further into the government-controlled south.

French-led forces subsequently recaptured northern Mali from the rebels who had seized control of the region in April 2012 amid chaos triggered by a military coup. Paris recently indicated that it intended to hand over control of military operations in Mali to an African-led force, known as AFISMA, as soon as possible.

Several Western nations, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Italy, had provided logistical military assistance to the French mission in Mali without getting directly involved in the conflict.

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