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Malian soldiers man a checkpoint on the Gao road outside Sevare, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Mali's capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. French and Malian troops held a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern town of Gao on Sunday as their force also pressed toward Timbuktu, another stronghold of Islamic extremists in northern Mali, officials said. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Malian soldiers man a checkpoint on the Gao road outside Sevare, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Mali's capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. French and Malian troops held a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern town of Gao on Sunday as their force also pressed toward Timbuktu, another stronghold of Islamic extremists in northern Mali, officials said. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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.