Arab Today, arab today \hundreds\ of rebels killed france to leave mali from march
Last Updated : GMT 01:58:56
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\'Hundreds\' of rebels killed, France to leave Mali from March

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today \'Hundreds\' of rebels killed, France to leave Mali from March

Gao - AFP

French-led forces have killed hundreds of Islamists in fighting to reclaim northern Mali and with the rebels' last bastion secured, France said Tuesday it will begin withdrawing its troops from March. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the 26-day military intervention had killed "several hundred" Islamist militants as its air and ground forces chased them from their northern strongholds into remote mountainous terrain in the far northeast, near the Algerian border. The defence ministry said the Islamists died in French air strikes on vehicles transporting fighters and equipment, and in "direct combat in Konna and Gao", key central and northern towns. France's sole fatality so far has been a helicopter pilot who was killed at the start of the military operation. Mali said 11 of its troops were killed and 60 wounded after the battle at Konna last month but has not since released a new death toll.Le Drian said the Malian army had taken "some prisoners, not many, who will have to answer to Malian courts and to international justice," adding that some of those detained were high-ranking militants. France expects to begin withdrawing its soldiers from Mali "starting in March, if all goes as planned", French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told daily newspaper Metro in an interview to be published Wednesday. Nearly 4,000 French troops are currently deployed in Mali, and the former colonial ruler is keen to hand over the operation to African forces amid warnings the Islamists could now launch a prolonged insurgency. The French defence ministry said Kidal -- the last town to fall of those seized by Al Qaeda-linked fighters who occupied northern Mali for 10 months -- was now under the control of French forces and some 1,800 Chadian troops. The rebels have fled to the Adrar des Ifoghas massif around Kidal, a craggy mountain landscape honeycombed with caves, where they are believed to be holding seven French hostages. One of the Islamist groups, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said Tuesday it had attacked military positions in Gao, the largest city in the north -- a claim denied by west African forces. "The combat isn't over. The attacks are going to continue," MUJAO's Abou Dardar told AFP. An ethnic Tuareg group formerly allied with the Islamists, the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), meanwhile said it had retaken Menaka, a town previously claimed by French-led forces. A Malian security source confirmed the Tuareg group was in the town 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Niger border, which Nigerien troops had taken from Islamist occupiers but then left as they continued their advance. The rebels have fled to the Adrar des Ifoghas massif around Kidal, a craggy mountain landscape honeycombed with caves, where they are believed to be holding seven French hostages. One of the Islamist groups, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said Tuesday it had attacked military positions in Gao, the largest city in the north -- a claim denied by west African forces. "The combat isn't over. The attacks are going to continue," MUJAO's Abou Dardar told AFP. An ethnic Tuareg group formerly allied with the Islamists, the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), meanwhile said it had retaken Menaka, a town previously claimed by French-led forces. A Malian security source confirmed the Tuareg group was in the town 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Niger border, which Nigerien troops had taken from Islamist occupiers but then left as they continued their advance.

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