Going into Mali there were only about two thousand troops heading north, and only a few hundred of those were commandos. But like their American counterparts, the French have elite infantry units (airborne and Foreign Legion) who were flown in (or parachuted in) to assist. The basic French tactic was to use months of air reconnaissance to identify buildings where the al Qaeda men were staying in the dozen or so major towns (and a few cities) in northern Mali they occupied. Using a dozen or so fighter-bombers and several hundred smart bombs and missiles, these al Qaeda targets were hit. Then, when the commandos approached the al Qaeda held town in their Patsis (or even lighter vehicles) they would call in smart bomb strikes as needed. This tactic worked very well in Afghanistan 12 years ago and the only countermeasures al Qaeda has come up with is to flee on foot (because now smart bombs and missiles can hit moving vehicles) and, in general, to not stick around when you encounter ground troops capable of calling in smart bomb attacks.
The French troops are not numerous enough to chase down all the scattering Islamic terrorists or preventing them from returning. For this job they were accompanied by troops from Mali and other African nations. These provided security in the liberated towns and began the arduous process of hunting down the remaining al Qaeda men. These Islamic terrorists are attempting to reorganize and continue fighting. To that end they are prowling the few roads looking for civilian vehicles they can steal. Some of the fleeing terrorists took satellite phones with them. While this enables them to get in touch with other al Qaeda groups, it also allows the NATO electronic surveillance aircraft overhead (or working from the satellite phone company operations centers) to track the phone carrying terrorists.
About 800 French soldiers, including hundreds of paratroopers, took part in the operation which saw Timbuktu recaptured on January 28th. A total of 4,000 French troops are currently in Mali.
Nearly 2,000 army personnel from Chad and Niger, with experience of fighting in the Sahara desert, are already helping consolidate the recent gains and another 2,000 troops are to the south, preparing to move north. A further 6,000 troops will be deployed as part of the UN-backed African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma).