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FRENCH ANNOUNCE PULLOUT

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Withdrawal to Start in April
By Harold Hutchison

French troops will begin pulling out of Mali in April, French President Francois Hollande announced on Thursday. The announcement comes as fierce resistance to efforts by French and Chadian troops continues in the northern part of Mali. The decision did raise concerns that some Islamists were just going to ground.

"If the French do withdraw most of their 4,000 troops, you're going to have a relatively weak African force, poorly trained, heading right into the rainy season without the strength of the French forces, facing militants who have gone to ground or gone to the mountains or wherever now, crawling back out and potentially launching asymmetric attacks all throughout the rainy season that could turn the African forces into little more than defending isolated garrisons," J. Peter Pham of the Washington-based Michael S. Ansari Africa Center told VOA news.

Hollande said earlier in the week that the French would announce more successes in their campaign, including the killing of “terrorist leaders” in the country, but did not go into specifics. Militants have carried out murder-suicide attacks near Gao and Kidal, and have threatened attacks against France and any African nation that joined the effort to fight the Islamist rebels in Mali.