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Originally published Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 4:43 AM

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Mali: French troop pullout to start within weeks

France's defense minister says French troop units will start pulling out of Mali within weeks, despite new clashes and challenges in rooting out armed extremists in the West African country.

The Associated Press

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PARIS —

France's defense minister says French troop units will start pulling out of Mali within weeks, despite new clashes and challenges in rooting out armed extremists in the West African country.

Extremists linked to al-Qaida seized control of northern Mali last year. France fears the region could become a terrorist haven, and France sent troops Jan. 11 to help Malian forces retake the north.

Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged Wednesday that the African military force meant to take over from the French is not ready yet. But he said on France 2 television that "we have no reason to stay ... it's a matter of weeks."

Le Drian said an operation in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains that killed a French soldier and some 20 militants Tuesday will continue "for a while."

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