- Associated Press - Sunday, July 13, 2014

PARIS (AP) - France’s defense minister says the French military operation in Mali “fulfilled its mission” and is being reorganized into a regional force against terrorists across northwest Africa.

France intervened 18 months ago after al-Qaida-linked extremists seized a swath of the former French colony. Operation Serval was repeatedly extended to help Mali’s government regain control, and is expected to end soon - perhaps this week when French President Francois Hollande visits Africa.

While French-led forces dispersed extremists and the U.N. established a peacekeeping force, sporadic violence continues. Meanwhile, concern has mounted about links between Mali’s fighters and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Europe-1 radio Sunday that the French force will become a 3,000-strong regional operation focused on fighting terrorists and based in Mali, Chad and Niger.