French forces not to stay in Mali for long: defense minister

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French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday ruled out a long-term deployment of French troops in Mali following positive progress made during France’s three-week military intervention against Islamist rebels.

“I don’t think that French forces will stay for a long time in Mali. Militarily, we are making progress and it’s up to Malians to ensure the political issue,” the minister said.

“As Malian and African forces will be ready to replace us, we will withdraw,” he said, adding that already 4,000 African troops had been deployed in the West African country.

During his one-day visit to Mali last Saturday, French President Francois Hollande stressed that French soldiers would return home once the conflict-torn state has restored sovereignty and a U.N.-backed African military force could take over from the French soldiers.

Speaking to local news channel BFMTV, Le Drian drew a “positif stock” of French military operation after inflicting “heavy losses” on al Qaeda- linked insurgents.

“We reported one victim and three slight injuries but we have provoked many hundreds of dead (rebels) and heavy logistic and technical damage in camp trainings,” the misinter said.

Le Drian also unveiled that “some prisoners were held by Malian authorities” and that France had asked to judge them in a normal process and with respect of law,” without giving further details on their identities.

France has already poured 3,500 soldiers into the West African country and carried out air strikes since Jan. 11 in the rebel-held northern half of Mali.

The commitment came after the Malian forces failed to repel Islamist rebels who seized the country’s strategic northern towns.