(CNN) An effort to halt advancing militant Islamist forces has resulted in “many deaths” in northern Mali, a military spokesman said — with the fatalities including Malian soldiers, insurgents and a French pilot killed in a helicopter raid.

Mali is being joined by France — its former colonial ruler, which recently sent troops there — as it tries to beat back advances by forces linked to al Qaeda. Much action recently has focused in and around the key northern city of Konna, which insurgents took on Thursday only to retreat the following day after a combined air and ground assault.

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