The Malian army on Saturday said it had taken control of a stopover town on the way to the northern rebel stronghold Kidal amid a resumption of hostilities in the region.
"The (Malian armed forces) took full control of the locality of Anefis early this morning", the military said in a statement.
"Evaluations are underway."
Almou Ag Mohamed, a spokesperson for the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (CSP), a coalition of armed rebel factions, confirmed to AFP that the army was in Anefis, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of the city of Kidal.
He said that the Russian paramilitary company Wagner was accompanying the army.
"But Anefis is not a major issue for us. We are at war, a war that will be long and will not be fought down to one position", the spokesman said.
"Anefis is only one position and the front is mobile."
An army convoy made up of dozens of vehicles, some armoured, on Monday left the city of Gao, which lies 300 kilometres (185 miles) southwest of Kidal.
The convoy has since come under attack.
The column was "initially heading towards Anefis to reinforce our positions. We are not going directly to Kidal", an officer based in Gao told AFP at the time.
"This morning in the town of Anefis we saw the white mercenaries of Wagner" as well as the Malian army, an eyewitness on the ground told AFP on Saturday.
Road travel in Mali can be long and dangerous.
On Thursday evening, the army said a large convoy of its forces had reached the outskirts of Anefis.
The rebels claimed earlier Thursday to have stopped the convoy's advance and shot down an army plane south of Anefis.
Claims from all sides are difficult to verify in the remote area.
The column of vehicles has made slow progress and fuelled speculation about its destination and objectives.
An offensive on the rebel bases in the Kidal region could be a turning point after a decade of conflict, as attacks against Malian army camps by both the separatist groups and jihadists have increased.
But in August they resumed hostilities.