France's defense minister says forces working to retake control of northern Mali are encountering some "residual jihadist groups" outside of the region's major cities.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that French and Malian forces clashed with Islamist militants a day earlier near the city of Gao, and that French aircraft continue to carry out airstrikes against militant targets.
Gao is one of the northern cities French and Malian forces recaptured from Islamist militants last month, in an operation that began after militants started moving toward the capital, Bamako.
In another development, France has called for the United Nations to oversee the African-led military force in Mali.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that the moment security is "assured" in Mali, he could envision the West African mission being placed under U.N. peacekeeping operations.
The U.N. Security Council has begun private consultations on the proposed conversion. The U.N. force, if approved by the U.N. and the Malian government, would support the stabilization of Mali after France withdraws its troops from its former colony.
About 4,000 French troops are currently involved in the Mali mission. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for French President Francois Hollande said the president intends to begin a pull-out of his forces next month, if all goes well.
Currently, an African regional force called AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali) is being deployed to liberated regions of Mali. The force, which is expected to have at least 6,000 troops, will help the Malian army maintain security after French forces departs.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
Malian soldiers man a bridge at the entrance of Gao, northern Mali where a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed himself attempting to blow up an army checkpoint, Feb. 8, 2013.
Malian soldiers stand by a motorcycle used by a suicide bomber at the entrance of Gao, northern Mali, Feb. 8, 2013.
Malian soldiers inspect an explosive they found after residents notified authorities of suspicious bags left by radicals when they fled Gao, northern Mali, February 6, 2013.
A Malian man walks between doors of closed shops in Gao, northern Mali, February 5, 2013.
A child stands by his donkey cart, in Gao, northern Mali, February 5, 2013.
Men carry humanitarian food aid toward boats, Mopti, Mali, February 4, 2013.
A Malian woman looks at men carrying humanitarian food aid, Mopti, Mali, February 4, 2013.
Malian soldiers escort prisoners, who are suspected al-Qaida-allied fighters, in front of a military cell in Mopti, Mali, February 4, 2013.
A convoy of Malian troops on the road to Gao, northern Mali, February 4, 2013.
French President Francois Hollande holds hands with Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traoré in Timbuktu, Mali, February 2, 2013.
A man takes a close look at a burned-out truck in Timbuktu, Mali, January 31, 2013.