Mali's armed forces retook the central town of Konna from Islamist rebels with French military support on Friday, a Malian defence ministry official and residents said.
"The Malian army has retaken Konna with the help of our military partners. We are there now," Lieutenant Colonel Diaran Kone told Reuters. This was confirmed by a local shopkeeper, who said the army had entered the town, which earlier on Thursday had been seized by alleged al Qaeda-linked insurgents from Mali's desert north.
Earlier, on Friday, the French air force carried out an air strike to aid government forces trying to push back the rebels trying to beseige country, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said.
"French forces brought their support on Friday afternoon to Malian army units to fight against terrorist elements," French president Francois Hollande told reporters. "This operation will last as long as is necessary." Hollande said United Nations security council resolutions meant France was acting in accordance with international laws.
"Helicopters have bombarded rebel positions. The operation will continue," a senior military source in Bamako said. A source at Sevare airport also said around a dozen war planes had arrived on Friday.
The UN security council in December authorised the deployment of an African-led force supported by European states. "The French believe that France, and Europe, face a real security threat from what is happening in the Sahel," said Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.
Western powers fear the alliance of al Qaeda-linked militants that seized the northern two-thirds of Mali in April will seek to use the vast desert zone as a launchpad for international attacks.
A coup last March paved the way for a Islamist rebellion in Mali, which is Africa's third largest gold producer and a major cotton grower, and home to the fabled northern desert city of Timbuktu - an ancient trading hub and UNESCO World Heritage site that hosted annual music festivals before the rebellion.
(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis in Dakar, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Alexandria Sage, John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; writing by Daniel Flynn)