A French soldier aims his sniper rifle during fighting with Islamists in Gao. French and Malian troops fought Islamists on the streets of Gao on Thursday.

Ottawa - France is still ready to start pulling its forces out of Mali next month despite a rebel attack on the key town of Gao, the French commander of the defense staff said on Friday.

Admiral Edouard Guillaud told reporters after a speech in Ottawa that he was not surprised by Thursday's attack in Gao, when 15 Islamists were killed by French and Malian troops.

Asked whether France still planned to start withdrawing troops in March, he replied: “This is obviously conditions-based, that's obvious. But yet, I don't see any reason not to begin some drawdown.” - Reuters