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In this picture dated Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 and released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) a French soldier of the 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment based in Le Mans, western France, distributes smoke grenades at Bamako airport, Mali. An official at France's Defense Ministry says the country will "gradually deploy" a total of 2,500 troops to Mali, and the French president says the military operation will last until security has been restored and African forces are ready to take charge. (AP Photo/Arnaud Roine, ECPAD)

In this picture dated Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 and released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) a French soldier of the 2nd Marine Infantry Regiment based in Le Mans, western France, distributes smoke grenades at Bamako airport, Mali. An official at France's Defense Ministry says the country will "gradually deploy" a total of 2,500 troops to Mali, and the French president says the military operation will last until security has been restored and African forces are ready to take charge. (AP Photo/Arnaud Roine, ECPAD)

Fierce fighting rages in Mali

French and Malian troops fought Islamists on the streets of Gao

and a car bomb exploded in Kidal on Feb. 21, as fighting showed little

sign of abating weeks before France plans to start withdrawing some

forces.