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French troops to stay in Mali even after UN forces arrive

 
 
 
 
 
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French soldiers take up position on a street in Gao, Mali on April 13, 2013.

France’s defense minister has reaffirmed that the country will keep 1,000 troops in Mali to fight armed groups even after the arrival of more than 12,000 UN peacekeepers later this year.

A day after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the peacekeeping force, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the city of Gao in northeastern Mali.

“From now on we are in the post-war phase. The UN resolution adopted yesterday will allow for the arrival of a force to stabilize the country,” Le Drian told reporters on Friday. “But France will keep about 1,000 soldiers to carry on with military operations.”

During his visit to Mali, Le Drian met Acting President Dioncounda Traoré and General Ibrahim Dahrou Dembele to discuss efforts underway to train the Malian military.

The new UN force will also incorporate 6,000 African Union troops already deployed in Mali — a force recently called “completely incapable” by a US Defense Department official.

The UN force is tasked with helping to restore peace in the aftermath of a French-led military operation launched in January to dislodge local fighters who had seized control of the country’s vast north.

However, the UN peacekeepers will not be authorized to launch offensive military operations or chase fighters in the desert. Therefore, the French forces will continue to do that job, although France is planning to downscale its presence in its former colony by the end of the year.

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