Fourteen soldiers were killed and 18 wounded on Saturday in an attack on their camp in Mali’s restive north, the army said.
Mali’s deteriorating security situation is of growing concern as al-Qaeda-linked groups mount increasingly deadly attacks on domestic and foreign forces.
“The Malian armed forces were attacked early this morning, around 4 am, in Soumpi (Timbuktu region). We have recorded 14 dead, 18 wounded and material damage,” a statement from the military posted on social media said.
The army retook the camp by the afternoon, a Malian military source reached there told AFP.
“The Malian army is back in control of the camp. Two terrorists have been killed,” the source said, adding other attackers were being “pursued”.
A military source based in Bamako told AFP the soldiers were killed during a terrorist attack on the Soumpi camp.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita tweeted that he had cancelled planned travel to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and would instead visit Boni on Saturday.
The Soumpi incident comes two days after 26 civilians including mothers and babies were killed when their vehicle ran over a landmine in Boni, central Mali, according to a UN death toll. The U.N. Security Council said it “condemned in the strongest terms the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack”, referring to Thursday’s incident.
Long-simmering inter-ethnic tensions have been exploited by Islamists in central Mali as the state has retreated, propogating violence that was once limited to the north.
In March and April 2012, jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda seized control of the arid north of Mali, including celebrated ancient cities such as Gao and Timbuktu, centers of trans-Saharan trade and learning.
The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013, and in June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with coalitions of non-jihadist armed groups, but other insurgents remain active, and large tracts of the country are lawless.
UN Security council sets March deadline
The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a French-drafted statement giving parties to the 2015 peace deal until the end of March to show progress or face sanctions.
The council said there was a “pressing need to deliver tangible and visible peace dividends to the population in the north and other parts of Mali” ahead of elections scheduled for this year.
Minusma, the U.N.’s Mali mission is the world’s most dangerous active deployment, with more than 140 peacekeepers killed since its launch, 89 of them by enemy action.
Mali is one of a string of poor, fragile nations in the Sahel region that have been battered by terror attacks.
The country has joined the so-called “G5 Sahel force” with Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, pooling their military efforts.
In November, France said it would increase development aid to the Sahel by more than a third, linking the extra funds to the fight against jihadist groups in the vast African region, and Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said on January 18 that the U.K. will send three additional Chinook helicopters to Mali for counter-terrorism operations.
With reporting from AFP