France says fierce fighting continues in the mountains of northern Mali, as part of the operation to clear Islamist militants out of their remaining strongholds.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Tuesday the fighting in the Ifoghas region, near the Algerian border, is targeting an area where the "most radical terrorist groups" have gone.
French troops entered Mali in January to push back militants moving toward the capital and have since been joined by African troops in backing Mali's forces.
Le Drian says the operation has rapidly regained control of almost all of northern Mali, but that the hardest portion remains. He highlighted the challenges of scouring the vast region for remaining militant hideouts.
The defense minister also discussed the cost of France's mission, putting it at more than $130 million.
France has said it plans to begin withdrawing its ground forces and hand over military operations to the Malian army and the emerging African force.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.