French Mirage fighter jets pounded Mali for a third day and a top Islamist leader was reported killed as African troops headed to the west African country.
"Our intervention is ongoing and we will continue in order to make the Islamist fighters retreat and allow Malian and African forces to go forward and re-establish the territorial integrity of the country," Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said.
The first troops promised by neighboring nations were expected in Mali to join the campaign yesterday. Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal have each pledged 500 troops for an African intervention force.
A security source said a lieutenant of rebel chief Iyad Ag Ghaly was killed in fighting to recapture the central town of Konna.
"The Islamist fighters suffered a real setback with the death of Abdel "Kojak" Krim," the source said.
On Saturday French troops arrived in the capital Bamako, flying in from their bases in Ivory Coast and Chad.
Colonel Paul Geze, the French mission's commander, said he hoped their mission would succeed "as quickly as possible, in the best conditions possible."
The French contingent was due to be at full strength today. It has been deployed in the capital to protect the 6,000-strong expatriate community.
Both France and Mali on Saturday hailed the success of their joint operation to push back an advance by the Islamists who control the north of the country.
Since taking power in the north last year, the Islamists have destroyed centuries-old Muslim mausoleums they see as heretical and imposed an extreme form of Islamic law including floggings, amputations and sometimes executions.
"Our foes have suffered heavy losses," French President Francois Hollande said, stressing that the intervention by his country had "only one goal, which is the fight against terrorism."
Dioncounda Traore, Mali's interim president, said 11 of its soldiers were killed and 60 wounded in the fighting.
"They fell on the field of honor at Konna," he said.
Le Drian said French Mirage fighters had carried out a second day of air strikes on Saturday to stop columns of Islamist fighters from driving south.
A French pilot was killed, he added. But the Islamists reportedly suffered heavy losses.
Malian troops recaptured Konna on Friday, just a day after it fell to the insurgents, who have threatened to continue their advance south.
The Islamists seized northern Mali, a territory the size of France, after of last year's March coup, which ousted democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure.