French ground forces were heading towards Mali's northern region to help local authorities to retake the area from Islamist rebels, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday.

"So far, we made sure that there are some ground forces in Bamako, first to secure our population, our expatriates, EU citizens and the city of Bamako. Now the French ground forces are moving to the north," Le Drian told RTL radio.