PARIS — France’s defense minister said Tuesday that French troops are involved in ‘‘very violent fighting’’ in the mountains of northern Mali and that it is too early to talk about a quick pullout from the West African country, despite the growing cost of the intervention.
The fighting against Islamic extremists in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains has been going on for days. A clash in the area killed 23 soldiers from neighboring Chad on Friday, according to a letter from President Francois Hollande of France, expressing condolences to his Chadian counterpart.
Soldiers from Chad and a few other African countries have joined the French-led operation to help Mali’s weak military push back extremists who had imposed harsh rule on northern Mali and started moving toward the capital last month.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on an Islamic rebel leader whose extremist group seized much of northern Mali last year and prompted the French military intervention. The US State Department designated Iyad Ag Ghali, head of the Islamic group Ansar Dine, a global terrorist. The action blocks any assets he holds in the United States and prohibits Americans from doing business with him.
The United Nations also added Ag Ghali to its global sanctions list.