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A French soldier walks across an airstrip tarmac at a Malian air base in Gao, March 9, 2013
Officials said earlier today that a French corporal was killed while tracking down jihadist fighters in their northern Mali mountain hideout. This brings the total number of French deaths to five since the military intervention began on 11 January.
France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the 24 year-old soldier, Alexandre Van Dooren, was killed and three of his comrades wounded when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in the Ifoghas mountains.
Van Dooren was “taking part in a search and destroy mission targeting terrorist weapons stored south of Tessalit” near the Algerian border, said Le Drian.
Dossier: War in Mali
Mali had been asking for help to take back the north of its country that had been taken over by Islamists over nine months ago. The French military took days to take-back the main cities in northern Mali such as Gao and Timbuktu. However, the majority of jihadist fighters have now fled to the more remote mountainous hide-outs in the north to continue their fight.
French President François Hollande acknowledged that this is probably the “final and most difficult phase of their mission”, but has stated he already plans to scale back French military presence in Mali as early as next month. A mix of Malian troops and an African stablisation force is expected to take over.