Fighting in northern Mali continues, with an ongoing French military intervention still combating Islamist rebels of the region.

Having been France’s colony until 1960, Mali appealed to France for aid in pushing out the Islamist radicals. The operation, set in motion last month, is still not resolved, with some speculating that it spells a permanent presence of French military in the country.

Paired with local military, the 4,000 troops deployed from France have since pursued the goal of removing the threat of the Islamist rebels, and hand control back over to Mali suffered casualties for the second time on the 19th of February, the only previous casualty had been a helicopter pilot killed on the first day of the intervention. In the fight on Tuesday in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range, a further 20 rebel militants were killed, adding to hundreds killed in the last month.

During the offensive, French troops helped the Mali government recapture towns and major cities in the north, after the rebels began to march on the country’s capital, Bamako. Now the fighting is limited to the northeast mountain region bordering the Sahara.

As al-Qaeda linked rebels continue to be pushed further to the border, French Prime Minister Francois Hollande has said he is sure that “We are now in the last phase of the operation in Mali”. Conversely, however, troops discovered rocket launchers in the city of Bourem last Tuesday, which are thought to have been left there by the fleeing insurgents. Additionally, rockets, ammunition and other accessories thought to have belonged to the rebels were found, showing that they are well equipped.

Currently, Hollande hopes to be able to retract French troops from Mali in March, and hand complete control back to the Malian army, who, with the aid of the U.N.-backed African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) force, will be able to re-establish control over the country. Mali has also asked for military ground support from other European nations, who have declined. Furthermore, it is feared that since the fighting has moved to a remote mountain region, the French troops could get caught up in a guerilla war with rebels, making the proposed retraction in March questionable.