French soldiers take position outside Bourem in northern Mali. French and Malian troops on Sunday secured the town from insurgents.

Paris -

France's defence minister says French troop units will start pulling out of Mali within weeks, despite new clashes and challenges in rooting out armed extremists in the West African country.

Extremists linked to al-Qaeda seized control of northern Mali in 2012. France fears the region could become a terrorist haven, and France sent troops January 11 to help Malian forces retake the north.

Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged Wednesday that the African military force meant to take over from the French is not ready yet. But he said on France 2 television that “we have no reason to stay ... it's a matter of weeks.”

Le Drian said an operation in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains that killed a French soldier and about 20 militants on Tuesday will continue “for a while.” - Sapa-AP