French soldiers stand next to a tank at a Malian air base in Bamako in January - Reuters
French and Malian forces are advancing in the last Islamist stronghold of Kidal after recapturing key towns of Timbuktu and Gao in the landlocked west African nation.
While the French ground troops are gearing up to enter into the city, the aerial forces have also taken their positions in and around the city, suggest reports.
"We confirm that French aircraft are on the Kidal landing strip and that protection helicopters are in the sky," a regional security source in Kidal told the AFP.
Kidal has been home to the head of the militant group Ansar Dine, an offshoot of al-Qaida, which joined hands with two others to take control of Northern Mali in April 2012. However, secular Tuareg rebel group National Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) has claimed control over the town recently.
French officials are believed to be talking to the Tuareg rebel leaders in their efforts to drive away the Islamist rebels from Northern Mali.
The first phase of the French operation is likely to get over with the recapture of Kidal. Unconfirmed reports earlier suggested that the Tuareg rebels have offered to help the French forces in further driving away the Islamists.
France is looking to swiftly pass the "baton" to African forces to drive away the rebels from Northern Mali region.
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