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to die in Mali since France intervened in its former colony in January 2013 to oust al Qaeda linked militants controlling the north of the country, was killed after an explosive device went off under his vehicle, he told RMC radio.
France is particularly worried by the situation in Libya where more than two and a half years after the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi, the oil rich North African state is struggling to contain violence between rival forces and Islamist militants are gaining ground in the south.
French defence officials say the new phase in operations will allow their forces to operate freely across borders to strike militants. It was recently approved by the main countries concerned Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso.
"A certain stability was achieved across the south (of Mali), but in the north a certain number of jihadists have wanted to regroup," he said. "They have nothing to lose. They will give up their life (for the cause)."
PARIS, May 8 (Reuters) A French soldier has been killed in northern Mali as France prepares to deploy thousands Nike Air Presto Volt
"This area is key to the security of African states," Le Drian said. "But it is also for our own security.
Pockets of al Qaeda linked fighters are still holding out across the north, more than a year after the French offensive aimed at driving them from the desert region they occupied for most of 2012 after hijacking a rebellion by Tuareg separatists.
French forces will now be based in four regional centres. Some will be in Gao in northern Mali, others Niger's capital Niamey, where French surveillance drones are based, and in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, where until now special forces have launched raids into the desert.
"We will provide our help to the Nigerian (intelligence) services to locate these girls are," Le Drian said. "We have the means to do that and eventually to help bring them back."
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Le Drian said France was restructuring its forces across West Africa for more counter terrorism activities Air Presto Flyknit to target Islamist groups taking advantage of porous borders between southern Libya, northern Chad and northern Niger.
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"There will be 1,000 soldiers that remain in Mali, and 3,000 in the Sahel Sahara zone, the danger zone, the zone of all types of smuggling," he said. "We will stay as long as necessary. There is no fixed date."
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But after being scattered across Mali and into neighbouring countries, they have now regrouped and stepped up operations in recent months, Le Drian said after announcing the death.
Smaller bases to launch strikes are also being set up with Abidjan in the Ivory Coast as the mission's logistical hub.
With thousands of troops in the region, Paris has a major interest in preventing Nigeria's security from deteriorating and has voiced concern Boko Haram could spread north into the Sahel.
of its troops across the region to better fight Islamist militancy, Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.
The fourth centre will be in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, where the operations will be coordinated.
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