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PARIS (Reuters) - French soldiers have killed about 20 Islamic combatants in northern Mali this week in an operation to defend France's troops there, the defence ministry in Paris said on Friday.

A ministry statement said the army deployed warplanes and attack helicopters in the operation last Tuesday.

"About 20 terrorist have been taken out and following searches the army has seized individual and collective weapons," the ministry said.

France intervened in 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who had seized northern Mali the year before. It has since deployed more than 4,500 soldiers, known as the Barkhane force, across the region to hunt down Islamists.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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