Mali's military has seized control of the northern town of Kidal, marking the first time the army has held the Tuareg rebel stronghold in nearly a decade, state broadcaster ORTM reported Tuesday.
"This is a message from the president of the transition to the Malian people," journalist Ibrahim Traore said in his introduction to the ORTM news bulletin. "Today, our armed and security forces have seized Kidal. Our mission is not over."
Mohamed Maouloud Ramadan, a rebel spokesman based in neighboring Mauritania, confirmed the presence of the Malian military in Kidal.
Soldiers from Mali's army, accompanied by partners from Russian military contractor Wagner, have been battling Tuareg fighters for several days in an effort to take control of the town following the departure of United Nations peacekeepers two weeks ago.
Separatist Tuareg rebels in the north have long sought an independent state they call Azawad. In 2012, they dislodged the Malian military from the town, setting into motion a series of events that destabilized the country.
Mutinous soldiers, upset about how the Tuareg rebellion was handled in 2012, later overthrew the country's democratically elected leader. Amid the chaos, Islamic extremists soon seized control of the major northern towns including Kidal, imposing their strict interpretation of Islamic law known as Shariah.
In 2013, France led a military intervention to oust the extremists from power, but they later regrouped and spent the next decade launching attacks on the Malian military and U.N. peacekeepers.
Another military coup in 2020, led by transition president Col. Assimi Goïta, resulted in deteriorating relations with Mali's international partners. Mali's foreign minister ordered the U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA to depart, and forces left Kidal at the beginning of November.