French-led troops in Mali have secured the key northern town of Timbuktu, a huge gain in a fast-moving offensive against militant rebels in the country's north.
According to a military source speaking to Reuters, the troops encountered no resistance as they entered Timbuktu.
According to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, French airstrikes had forced out the militants in the region, making a ground offensive more likely, Al Jazeera English reported. He explained that the troops were currently near the town of Gao, which was captured by Mali forces yesterday.
Timbuktu has served a center of Islamic education for centuries, has been under the control of Al Qaeda linked militants for the last 10 months, BBC News reported.
According to the Guardian, French and African land forces are headed to Gao from neighboring Niger. Late on Saturday night, the French military announced that it had liberated Gao. The advance marked the biggest achievement for the Malian government since it began the operation to oust the militants from the region.
Meanwhile, the United States has expanded its aid to the French effort in Mali, offering aerial refueling and planes to transport soldiers from other African countries, the Pentagon announced.
According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration has been debating how much the US should engage in the French assault against the Islamists in Mali. Washington is prohibited from giving foreign assistance to leaders who gained their power in a coup. Mali's military leaders seized control of the government last year in a bloodless coup.
Yesterday, the Obama Administration found a legal loophole to the dilemma, but questions about whether the support lies in the US's best interest still abound.