French politicians displayed increasing unease today over the much-vaunted success - and the cost - of their military operation in Mali.
Their troops in northern Mali are searching out Islamist rebels who may be mixing with the population in Gao, after recent clashes raised questions about how firm a grip French soldiers have on the region.
Military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said today that they were still trying to secure Gao, nearly two weeks after French and Malian troops moved in.
They were thought to have largely pushed the rebels back to remote mountains near the Algerian border but are now being attacked in retaken territory, raising fears of a prolonged insurgency.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the rebels had fired rockets at troops in Gao.
"Once our troops … started patrols around the towns we have taken, they met residual jihadist groups who were still fighting," Mr Le Drian said.
The intervention has already cost France €70 million (£60m), with every day more costing €2.7m.
Mr Le Drian claimed that the French-led operation had so far killed "several hundred" Islamist fighters.
After announcing plans to start withdrawing its 4,000 troops from Mali in March, France has called for a peacekeeping force to take the baton, its UN ambassador said after closed security council talks.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a peacekeeping force could be in place by April.
"This gives the advantage of being under the umbrella of the United Nations, under its financing," he said.