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French forces hammer Mali with airstrikes for third day in a row (UPDATES)

France's intervention in Mali has resulted in 'significant casualties' among Islamist forces, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Mali france intervention 12 01 2013Enlarge
A man holds a banner that reads 'No to negotiation, only war in the north' as thousands of Malians gather in Bamako on December 8, 2012 for a demonstration to support the Malian army and demand a UN Security Council resolution approving the deployment of an international force in the country's north, controlled for several months by Islamist armed groups. (HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images)

The French government said that French warplanes have bombed Gao, an Islamist-rebel-held town in Mali, BBC News reported.

Three residents told the Associated Press that the airport in Gao had been hit.

The strike reportedly destroyed all rebel bases in the town, and the militants had left, a source told the AFP news agency, according to BBC News.

French forces continued to hammer the country with airstrikes for the third consecutive day Sunday, citing "significant casualties" among the country's militant Islamist forces holding control over the northern part of the country. 

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Paris earlier Sunday that several of their "sensitive sites" and hangars were destroyed in the strikes, BBC News reported

"There were [air strikes] last night, there are now and there will be today and tomorrow," Le Drian said, Agence France Presse reported. "We will continue in order to make (Islamist fighters) retreat and allow Malian and African forces to go forward and re-establish the territorial integrity of the country."

"We have already held back the progress of our adversaries and inflicted heavy losses on them. But our mission is not over yet," French President Francois Hollande said Saturday, NBC News reported.

More from GlobalPost: Mali crisis: French intervention begins with airstrikes

At least 11 civilians have died in the fighting so far, according to a presidential spokesman, including three children, the Associated Press reported

The offense in Mali is an international effort aimed and curbing Al Qaeda from expanding its reach. 

Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed on Saturday to send soldiers to Mali, and the United Kingdom has offered France its support. 

“The Prime Minister has agreed that the UK will provide logistical military assistance to help transport foreign troops and equipment quickly to Mali,” Prime Minister David Cameron's office said in a statement, adding that they will not deploy any combat soldiers, according to PressTV

France's quick offense in the region has taken some by surprise, BBC News reported: the UN-backed, African-led international force was not expected to deploy to Mali until this coming fall. 

More from GlobalPost: Mali: First French death confirmed as troops arrive in Bamako

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/france/130113/french-forces-hammer-mali-airstrikes