French and Malian troops entered and seized the town of Diabaly on Monday, a key central town in Mali.
The town had been subject to airstrikes and fighting since the Islamist rebels seized it a week ago, but the French and Malian troops were able to enter without resistance, AFP noted.
The French military said it had only provided the troops with air support, according to CNN.
"This advance by Mali's army into towns held by their enemies is a certain military success for the government in Bamako and for French forces supporting the operations," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.
French officials said the Islamists were pushed into the forests beyond Diabaly, near Mauritania's border, and reported Malian forces had taken another area, Douentza.
Locals said the rebels fled Diabaly after French warplanes bombarded them last Thursday, according to the Guardian.
"We are truly really grateful to the French who came in the nick of time," Gaoussou Kone, 34, told the Associated Press. "Without the French, not only would there no longer be a Diabaly, there would soon no longer be a Mali. These people wanted to go all the way to Bamako."
Malian army officers warned that some of the population in Diabaly remains loyal to the Islamist rebels. One officer said the French and Malian troops have been told to remain on high alert.
Le Drian said the objective was to "totally conquer" Mali. He reportedly told a French TV channel, "We're not going to leave any pockets [of resistance]."
He said the French troops had to stop the progression of terrorist groups, hit their bases in the region of Gao and Timbuktu, guarantee security in Bamako and help Mali forces organize to retake all of Mali.
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French President Francois Hollande said Monday his plan is to "hand over to AFISMA [African-led International Support Mission to Mali] as quickly as possible."
He added, "Until that happens, we shall do our duty, and our African friends understand exactly what that duty is."