February 6, 2013 - 17:05 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - French troops clashed with Islamist extremists firing rocket launchers outside the north Malian city of Gao, France's Defense Minister said Wednesday, Feb 6, according to The Associated Press.
Jean-Yves Le Drian also said there have been "several hundred" Jihadist fighters killed and "large" destruction of weapons, giving the first indication of the scope of the combat in an interview Tuesday on France's BFM TV.
"It's a real war ... when we go outside of the center of cities that have been taken, we meet residual jihadists," he said Wednesday on Europe-1 radio.
Gao has been held by French-led forces since late January, and Tuesday's clashes highlight complications for the intervention.
Le Drian said French aircraft are continuing airstrikes every night on suspected militant arms depots and mine-making sites. On the ground, troops have found war materiel, weapons manuals and makeshift laboratories for making improvised explosive devices like roadside bombs.
"We discover preparations for a true terrorist sanctuary," he said.
France launched a swift military intervention Jan 11 against Islamist extremists who had taken over northern Mali, imposing harsh Shariah laws, and started pushing toward the capital. A UN-authorized African force is starting to take over from French forces in cities seized at the outset of the intervention.
A secular rebel movement fighting for a nation for Mali's minority Tuareg nomads claims it is holding several smaller northern towns, including the strategically located city of Kidal, on the road to Algeria. French and Chadian troops entered the city Tuesday.