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This picture provided by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) and released Monday Jan. 28, 2013 shows Chadian soldiers securing Gao airport, north of Mali, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. French and Malian forces pushed toward the fabled desert town of Timbuktu on Sunday, as the two-week-long French mission gathered momentum against the Islamist extremists who have ruled the north for more than nine months. (AP Photo/Ghislain Mariette, EMA-ECPAD)

This picture provided by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) and released Monday Jan. 28, 2013 shows Chadian soldiers securing Gao airport, north of Mali, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. French and Malian forces pushed toward the fabled desert town of Timbuktu on Sunday, as the two-week-long French mission gathered momentum against the Islamist extremists who have ruled the north for more than nine months. (AP Photo/Ghislain Mariette, EMA-ECPAD)

Fierce fighting rages in Mali

French and Malian troops fought Islamists on the streets of Gao

and a car bomb exploded in Kidal on Feb. 21, as fighting showed little

sign of abating weeks before France plans to start withdrawing some

forces.