French forces in ‘large-scale’ operation against Mali militants

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French, U.N. and Malian forces were engaged in a major operation aimed at preventing a resurgence of Islamist rebels in Mali, the French military said Thursday.

“We have engaged, with the Malian army and (U.N. mission) MINUSMA, in a large-scale operation” in the north of the country, French general staff spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said.

“It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together,” Jaron said. He said “several hundred” French soldiers were involved, but would not provide exact numbers or details on the other forces taking part.

The goal of the mission -- dubbed “Hydra” -- was “to put pressure on any terrorist movements to avoid their resurgence,” he said.

“This is one those operations that are conducted regularly... to participate in the stabilization of the country.”

It was not clear exactly when the operation had started, but its announcement came after two Chadian U.N. peacekeepers and a civilian were killed in northern Mali on Wednesday.

Al-Qaeda-linked militants said they were behind the attack on a United Nations checkpoint in the town of Tessalit.

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the attack, which followed an urgent request by the U.N. mission in Mali for more troops.

U.N. forces have been facing an upsurge in rocket attacks and bombings by militants ahead of nationwide elections next month in the troubled west African nation.

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