The French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, believes it will take another three weeks for French troops to fully secure north-eastern Mali from Islamic militants, and warned there could be more violent combats during that time.
Speaking in an interview in Le Monde newspaper to be published on Tuesday, Le Drian says fighters for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where they are believed to be hiding, are holding up a fierce resistance.
"We are pursuing the liberation of this territory metre by metre. There will certainly be violent combats," he says.
"Over the next three weeks, if everything goes to plan, [French troops] will have completely covered this territory...[and] full security over this area will return," he adds.
Le Drian's comments came just days after a fourth French soldier died in the French-led military intervention in Mali.
When asked about the possible death of Aqim chief Abou Zeid, Le Drian says it is "probable...even though we still need to confirm it."
"It's the whole structure [of Aqim] that needs to be dismantled, not just such and such leader," he says.