PARIS - France has started withdrawing its troops from Mali after an operation to help local forces push back an offensive by Islamist rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.
Paris aims to complete the withdrawal of 3,000 soldiers this year and will keep a permanent 1,000-strong combat force in the former colony to support a UN peacekeeping mission of African forces.
Despite concerns over persistent Islamist attacks in the north and the lack of security in many areas, France is pressing Mali's interim government to organize national elections to complete a democratic transition after a March 2012 coup.
"It's the start of the pullout," Thierry Burkhard said. "The aim is to be down to 2,000 in July."