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Dozens of French forces leave northern Malian town of Timbuktu for Gao

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FILE - This Feb. 21, 2013 file photo shows Malian soldiers, working with French forces, battling radical Islamic rebels in Gao, Mali. Al-Qaida's North African arm is trying something new to stay relevant: Twitter. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is trying to move the battleground elsewhere, seeking to tap into social grievances and champion mainstream causes such as unemployment, all in bid to reverse decline and win new followers, appealing to widespread concerns, such as the repression and a sense of injustice that galvanized the Arab Spring revolts. (AP Photo, File) (The Associated Press)

Dozens of French forces are leaving the northern Malian town of Timbuktu several months after their military operation largely ousted radical Islamic fighters from the area.

Col. Cyrille Zimmer said Sunday a small contingent of French soldiers will remain to aid the forces from Burkina Faso who are helping to secure the town.

The French forces are now headed to the northeastern town of Gao, where the French-led operation is based.

While the French-led mission helped chase the jihadists into the desert, many fear they could return and attempt new attacks once France leaves.

The French have said they plan to have 1,000 troops left by year-end from a deployment peak of about 4,000. A U.N. peacekeeping force is expected to arrive in July.