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French, Malian Forces Clash With Militants Outside Gao

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.

Also, the Associated Press reports Malian soldiers found a stash of industrial-strength explosives in Gao that could have been used to make roadside bombs.

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 spite of the fighting near Gao, French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday that he intends to soon begin a drawn-down of French forces in Mali.

A presidential spokeswoman said the pullout would begin next month if all goes as planned. About 4,000 French troops are currently involved in the Mali operation.

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(Pt no access France)

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