French minister of defence on surprise visit to Mali
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French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived Thursday on a surprise visit to Mali, where he spoke to FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin. Mabin has been following French troops as they track Islamists in the northern Ifoghas mountains.
French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived Thursday on a surprise visit to the mountains of northern Mali, where French troops have been tracking Islamist fighters who are thought to be holding foreign hostages.
Le Drian came to show support for the mission and pay homage to the two paratroopers recently killed in the Ifoghas mountain range. A total of four French soldiers have died since France launched its Mali operations on January 11.
"The mission is not over,” Le Drian told FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin. “The combat has been carried out very well so far, but we still need to restore Mali's territorial integrity, until Mali is freed."
Most of northern Mali fell under Islamist control following a coup in March last year.
"After that we may be able to start pulling back and leave the mission to African troops, supported by a UN mandate," he said.
Le Drian was speaking in an impromptu interview on the desert plains at the foot of the mountains, surrounded by French troops.
Mabin concurred that it was not yet time for France to hand over responsibility for the mission in Mali.
“It would be deceptive to imagine that African or UN troops are ready to take over and let French troops withdraw,” he said.
Mabin has been following French paratroopers as they track Islamist fighters across the northern Ifoghas terrain. It took them more than a week of trudging through the desert in 45°C heat to pick up the trail of the fighters.
Both the military and embedded journalists continue to operate under very difficult conditions in the area, Mabin said.
“We couldn’t even consider reaching the area without military helicopters,” he said. “It’s too dangerous. Many Islamist fighters remain in the region.”