French and Malian troops suffered casualties in clashes with Islamist fighters near northern Mali's main town, Gao, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday. He vowed to hunt down the combatants and claimed they had suffered "significant losses".
"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," Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.
French troops will start to withdraw from Mali next month, "if all goes according to plan", Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the Metro freesheet published Wednesday.
He put the cost of the campaign to the French exchequer at "several tens of millions of euros".
"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."
The Islamist group Mujao on Tuesday claimed that to have attacked French and Malian positions near Gao, although witnesses indicated that their had only been long-distance exchanges of fire.
"This is a real war," Le Drian said, when questioned about his statement Tuesday that French troops had killed hundreds of their opponents. But, he added, "I'm not going to get into an accounting exercise."
There are now 4,000 French troops in Mali, Le Drian said. 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 at the start of the intervention, Le Drian said there had been several French troops injured but that their wounds had been relatively light.