PARIS - A French soldier has been killed in a suicide attack in northern Mali, as the French government moves to set up a new counter-jihadist force in the region.
The French government announced the soldier's death on Tuesday, a day before Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain is due to visit Mali to sign a new defense pact with the government.
Investigators say the soldier died from injuries sustained during an attack on Monday about 100 kilometers from Gao. He is the ninth French soldier to die in Mali since France intervened in its former colony last year to restore order.
On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande travels to West Africa. His visit comes as the French government prepares to set up a new military operation that will target Islamist extremists in Mali, Chad and Niger.
The mission, called Operation Barkhane, will be based in Chad. It will include about 3,000 French soldiers, along with troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad.
Mali descended into chaos since 2012 when Tuareg rebels and later al-Qaida-linked militants took advantage of a military coup in the capital to seize control of the north.
French-led forces pushed the Islamists out, but violence has continued as the U.N. and Mali's neighbors struggle to salvage a faltering peace process.
On Wednesday, Algeria hosts peace talks between the Malian government and ethnic Tuareg rebels.