French Troops Launch Offensive in River Valley Near Gao

Area is believed to be a logistics center for Islamic militants fighting in Mali


GAO, Mali: A French force of 1,000 soldiers has begun a sweep of a river valley thought to be a logistics base for armed Islamists near the Malian city of Gao, an AFP journalist accompanying the mission said.

Operation Gustav, one of France's largest actions since its intervention against insurgents in January, will involve dozens of tanks, helicopters, drones and aircraft, said General Bernard Barrera, commander of the French land forces in Mali.

Gao, the largest city in northeastern Mali, was a stronghold of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias which occupied the north until the French-led Operation Serval dislodged them in January.