PARIS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday that the country's campaign against al Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Mali would be long, and that French ground troops were deploying in the north.
"We're in a better position than last week, but the combat continues and it will be long, I imagine," Le Drian told RTL radio.
"Today the ground forces are in the process of deploying," he said. "Until now, we had some forces in (the capital) Bamako to secure the population, the European nationals, and the city... Now the French forces are reaching the north."
On Tuesday, President Francois Hollande said French forces would remain in Mali until stability returned to the West African nation, whose northern part the Islamist rebels have controlled since last April.
Hollande said France hoped, however, to hand over to African forces in its former colony, "in the coming days or weeks."