GAO, Mali Malian soldiers patrolling the town of Gao, recently abandoned by Islamic insurgents, uncovered a stash of industrial-strength explosives Wednesday that could have been used to make bombs. They found grenades at another site and a possible booby-trapped vehicle.
The discovery came a day after one rocket fired by suspected militants landed in a dusty residential neighborhood of Gao and French soldiers clashed with militants outside town.
“It’s a real war ... when we go outside of the center of cities that have been taken, we meet residual jihadists,” France’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said Wednesday on Europe-1 radio. French troops clashed Tuesday with Islamic extremists firing rocket launchers outside Gao, he said.
French President Francois Hollande said France may start pulling out of this vast nation in northwest Africa at the end of March. Government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said in Paris on Wednesday that the pullout will depend on an increase in the deployment of African forces, who are meant to take over the international effort to secure Mali and help its weak army keep the peace.