UK & World News

  • 6 February 2013, 11:05

Mali: 'Significant Losses' During Fighting

French forces have clashed with Islamist militants in the Mali town of Gao in a "real war" with "significant losses", the French Defence Minister has said.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said jihadists had used rockets against French troops during fighting on Tuesday.

He confirmed the first French casualties since a helicopter pilot was killed in the opening hours of the campaign.

Mr Le Drian said there had been several French troops injured but that their wounds had been relatively light.

It followed comments made by him that French troops had killed hundreds of Islamist fighters in Mali.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Mr Le Drian said: "This is a real war with significant losses but I'm not going to get into an accounting exercise.

"There were clashes yesterday around Gao. Once our troops, supported by Malian forces, started patrols around the towns that we have taken, they met residual jihadist groups who are still fighting.

"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."

Mr Le Drian added that no more troops would be sent to Mali to bolster the 4,000 personnel already there.

The size of the force matches the French deployment in Afghanistan at its height in 2010.

France has indicated it would like to see its troops start withdrawing by next month.

Mr Le Drian admitted that while there had been fierce fighting around Gao, the militants were still holding out around the northern Mali town.

Islamist group Mujao claimed to have attacked the positions of French and African troops around Gao. Witnesses suggested that there had only been long-distance exchanges of fire.