The Malian army says it has regained “total control” of the town of Konna in the centre of the country, whose capture by Islamists eight days ago triggered the French military intervention.
It follows fighting between Malian soldiers, with French support, and armed rebels near the strategically important town.
Earlier this week the French denied claims that the town had been recaptured but reports now say residents and security sources have confirmed the army’s success.
In the capital the first troops from the planned West African force have arrived. In due course the French hope to hand over to African forces.
The first troops from Togo have been joined by others who left Nigeria on Thursday. They are due to be backed by more from six other West African countries.
They face an Islamist coalition whose resistance surprised French forces.
The UN’s refugee agency fears up to 700,000 people could be uprooted by the fighting to come.