France, who sent troops into Mali in January to remove militants who had taken control over parts of the country, will not draw down troop numbers to 1,000, from 3,200 by year-end as initially planned.
“We want to continue our reduction of troops to 1,000 by late January, early February,” armed forces spokesman Gilles Jaron announced during a news conference.
French special forces battled “armed terrorist groups” on October 1 in the village of Douaya, north of Timbuktu, after receiving intelligence suggesting militants were in the area, Jaron said.
Militants opened fire from a pick-up truck on a French helicopter, he said. Suspected Islamists in other vehicles escaped.
“Four hours after the start of the clashes, a large number of terrorists were neutralized, by that we mean around 10 fighters,” Jaron said. “They all fought to the end without wanting to surrender at any point.”
A French diplomatic source said: “The contest is not over. The terrorist groups are not completely stupid, they have been waiting for the storm to pass and they are now sensing their opportunity.”