BAMAKO, Mali (AP) - Overnight airstrikes by French forces in the West African nation of Mali have driven Islamist rebels from a key city and destroyed a militant command center.
Al-Qaida-linked militants have carved out their own territory in the lawless desert region of northern Mali over the past nine months and recently pressed closer to a major base of Mali's army. France's defense minister says those advances raise the threat of "a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe."
The French operation came after an appeal for help from Mali's president. The fighting involved hundreds of French troops and overnight airstrikes on three rebel targets in the former French colony, including a rebel command center outside the key city of Konna, which was destroyed.
Military officials say a French helicopter was downed and that the pilot died of his wounds while he was being evacuated to safety.
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