Fighting raged in one Mali town, airstrikes hit another and army troops raced to protect a third, on the seventh day of the French-led military intervention to wrest back Mali's north from al Qaida-linked groups.

Banamba, a town located only 90 miles (144 kilometers) from Mali's capital was put on alert overnight, and a contingent of roughly 100 Malian soldiers sped there on Thursday after a reported sighting of jihadists in the vicinity, marking the closest that the extremists have come to Mali's largest city and seat of government.