PARIS - French ground troops deployed in Mali are pushing north towards Islamist-held territory, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday, admitting operations were proving "very difficult" in some areas.
"Now French ground troops are making their way north," he told RTL radio a day after the launch of a ground offensive marking the second phase of France's intervention that began last week with an aerial campaign.
Le Drian said the French intervention was going well but that the fight would be long and difficult.
"It's a little more difficult in the west, where we have the toughest, most fanatical and best-organised groups. It's underway there but it's difficult," he said.
"We were aware from the beginning that this would be a very difficult operation," he said, noting that more than 1,000 Islamist rebels were in the western zone and may receive reinforcements.
"We are in a very positive situation compared with last week, but fighting continues and it will be long. The goal is for Mali to regain sovereignty over all of its territory," Le Drian said.