Speaking Friday in Bamako, the capital of Mali, Le Drian said French troops fighting Islamist militants in Mali "are entering their final phase, the most difficult but we make progress every day," Radio France Internationale reported.
"We have to see it through," Le Drian said, one day after making a surprise visit to the Ifoghas Mountains in northern Mali to tour a major al-Qaida base that has been dismantled by French forces, the BBC reported.
The defense minister said a "very impressive" arsenal of weapons was recovered from the base that included AK47s and grenade launchers.
"We knew this part of Mali was potentially the sanctuary of AQIM [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb], and we weren't wrong," he told Europe 1 radio from Mali. "We're dealing with resolute and heavily armed terrorists, who are engaging in significant fighting, and we have been able to inflict heavy damage on them.
"This shows," Le Drian said, "that there had been established there a kind of place, a terrorist war network, that could receive youngsters seeking a radical future, as some may have done in Afghanistan or Syria."
French President Francois Hollande said this week French troops would start pulling out of Mali in April.