Minister says French forces clash with al-Qaida-linked militants in northern Mali

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France's defense minister says a "violent clash" has broken out in northern Mali between French forces and militants linked to al-Qaida's North Africa branch.

Speaking at the National Assembly, Jean-Yves Le Drian said the fighting involved French forces leading a counterterrorism sweep and an "important armed group" linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. He said the fighting that began overnight in Mali's Ifoghas mountains had ended late Wednesday afternoon.

He didn't immediately specify any casualties or provide further details.

France last week announced plans to intensify military operations in northern Mali amid a recent resurgence of insurgent attacks there. French forces largely expelled insurgents from the region last year.

France has 3,000 troops, 200 armored vehicles and six fighter jets deployed in five countries of the Sahel region.