Paris: France`s defence minister is in Mali to meet soldiers trying to dislodge militants from an area near the border with Algeria. French troops launched a military operation in January to drive back the extremists marching on Mali`s capital.
Jean-Yves Le Drian arrived on Thursday on a surprise visit to Tessalit, near the Ifoghas mountain range where intense fighting has taken place in recent days. He paid his respects to the four soldiers killed so far, including on Wednesday.
Le Drian told troops: "In dislodging the jihadists from their last bastions, you are the spearhead of this relentless war."
France`s foreign minister Laurent Fabius says DNA tests are under way to identify militant leaders killed in Mali.
In recent days, Chad, which is fighting alongside France in northern Mali, has claimed that two major leaders are dead: Abou Zeid, head of one of the most violent brigades of al-Qaida`s North African franchise, and the al-Qaida-linked Moktar Belmoktar.
French officials have declined to confirm either death, although one official said Abou Zeid was probably dead.
The Foreign Minister said today on French radio: "You have to do stringent verifications with DNA, and that`s what the army is in the process of doing."
French troops launched a military operation in January to drive back the extremists marching on Mali`s capital. Fabius said France would begin drawing down troops in April.