The defense minister said French forces have killed about 40 suspected jihadists in sweeps in northern Mali in recent weeks, according to the Associated Press.
Jean-Yves Le Drian says militants linked to al Qaeda's north African wing have recently been trying to regroup. French forces last year largely expelled jihadist groups from the vast, arid region that they'd controlled for several months.
The minister told France's BFM-TV on Thursday, March 20, that the fight against such groups in the Sahel region "is far from finished" and stretches into other countries including Mali's neighbor Niger.
UN and Malian authorities said last week that one jihadist, Omar Ould Hamaha, died in a shootout with French forces on March 8 northeast of Timbuktu.
Le Drian said France has about 1,000 troops in northern Mali on a counterterrorism mission.