Around 20 jihadists killed or captured in Mali's north

French soldiers killed or captured about 20 jihadists in Mali's restive north where a French soldier was killed on April 5.

Paris: French soldiers killed or captured about 20 jihadists in Mali's restive north where a French soldier was killed on April 5, the French chief of has staff said.

Troops from Operation Barkhane, a French counterterror operation whose mission is to target jihadist groups operating in the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, launched the operation on Saturday south-west of the city of Gao.

"Since Saturday, the Barkhane force has been engaged in an operation which led to the neutralisation of nearly 20 jihadists in the forest of Foulsare near the border between Mali and Burkina Faso," a statement said.

They were either killed or captured, spokesman Colonel Patrik Steiger told AFP without giving a breakdown.

French Mirage fighter jets bombed several arms depots in the forest, a sanctuary for armed terrorist groups.

Set up in 2014, the operation comprises around 4,000 soldiers who are deployed across five countries -- Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso. In Niger, it operates four Mirage 2000 fighter jets and five Reaper drones for gathering intelligence.

Mali's north fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012 who hijacked an ethnic Tuareg-led rebel uprising, though the Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation in January 2013.

But jihadists continue to roam the country's north and centre, mounting attacks on civilians and the army, as well as French and UN forces still stationed there.

The North has been conducting missile- and nuclear weapons-related activities at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks over fears the North may conduct a long-range missile test, or its sixth nuclear test, around the time of the April 15 anniversary of its state founder`s birth.

In excerpts of an interview with CBS News released on Saturday, Trump said the United States and China would "not be happy" with a nuclear test, but gave no other details. 

U.S. officials have said privately that while military options remain on the table, the Trump administration is focusing for now on pressuring North with both unilateral and international sanctions and getting China to do more to restrain Pyongyang.

In an address to a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Saturday, Duterte urged the United States to show restraint after North Korea`s latest missile test and to avoid playing into the hands of leader Kim Jong Un, who "wants to end the world".

Two-month long US-South Korean joint military drills were due to conclude on Sunday, US and South Korean officials said. 

The exercise, called Foal Eagle, was repeatedly denounced by North Korea, which saw it as a rehearsal for war.

In a further show of force, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group arrived in waters near the Korean peninsula and began exercises with the South Korean navy late on Saturday. The South Korean navy declined to say when the exercises would be completed.
The dispatch of the Carl Vinson was a "reckless action of the war maniacs aimed at an extremely dangerous nuclear war," the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea`s ruling Workers` Party, said in a commentary on Saturday.

The carrier group has just completed drills with the Japanese navy. 

Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, in an apparent show of solidarity with Washington, has ordered the Izumo, Japan`s biggest warship, to protect a US Navy ship that might be going to help supply the USS Carl Vinson, the Asahi newspaper said.