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French clash with Islamists in north Mali: minister

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vowed Wednesday that French and Malian troops would chase down Islamist militants holding out around Gao.

Confirming that French and Malian troops had clashed Tuesday with Islamist militants near the main northern Mali town, Le Drian admitted the rebels were still resisting.

"There were clashes yesterday around Gao," Le Drian said on Europe 1 radio. "Once our troops, supported by Malian forces, started patrols around the the towns that we have taken, they met residual jihadist groups who are still fighting.

"We will go after them. We are securing the towns we have been able to take along with the Malian forces. The jihadists around Gao were using rockets yesterday."

Questioned over his comment on Tuesday that French troops had killed hundreds of Islamist fighters, Drian replied: "This is a real war with significant losses but I'm not going to get into an accounting exercise."

Islamist group Mujao claimed Tuesday to have attacked the positions of French and African troops around Gao. Witnesses suggested that there had only been long-distance exchanges of fire.

Le Drian added that the French force in Mali had reached 4,000 troops and would not increase any further. The size of the force matches the French deployment in Afghanistan at its height in 2010.

Confirming the first French casualties since a helicopter pilot was killed in the opening hours of the campaign, Le Drian said there had been several French troops injured but that their wounds had been relatively light.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130206/french-clash-islamists-north-mali-minister