French troops may start pulling out of Mali as early as next month, handing over to a still-developing African force. The potential withdrawal, floated by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in a newspaper interview, came as forces from France and Chad secured a key bastion in northern Mali, the city of Kidal. French aircraft and troops also are targeting suspected hideouts of Islamist fighters in the sparsely populated Saharan desert.
Fabius is quoted in France's Metro newspaper as saying, "I think that starting in March, if everything goes as planned, the number of our troops should diminish." The minister stressed that terrorist threats remain and that the fight isn't over yet, but that ultimately Africans and Malians themselves need to take responsibility for the region's security. France currently has around 4,000 troops in Mali—as many as it had in Afghanistan at the height of its 11-year military presence there.