French Forces Reach Timbuktu Islamists on the retreat in northern Mali By Newser Editors and Wire Services Posted Jan 28, 2013 12:03 AM CST 2 comments Comments In this April 24, 2012 photo, fighters from the Islamist group Ansar Dine stand guard during a hostage handover in the desert outside Timbuktu, Mali. (AP Photo/File) (Newser) – Ground forces backed by French paratroopers and helicopters took control of the airport and roads leading to the fabled desert town of Timbuktu in an overnight operation, a French military official says. The move marked the latest inroad by the two-week-old French mission to oust radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali, which they seized more than nine months ago. The French and Malian forces so far have met little resistance from the Islamists and Timbuktu's airport was taken without firing a shot, according to a French military spokesman. "There was an operation on Timbuktu last night that allowed us to control access to the town," he said today. "It's up to Malian forces to retake the town." During their rule in Timbuktu, the militants have systematically destroyed UNESCO World Heritage sites in the ancient town.