France confirms special forces clashes with armed rebels in northwest Mali

A clash between French soldiers and an armed jihadist group in northwest Mali left three “terrorists” dead, an army spokesperson said on Thursday, April 26, while local media reported injuries among French special forces.

The three were “neutralized” in a confrontation near the village of Goudam, west of Timbuktu, on April 21, French army spokesperson Colonel William Thomas told a press conference.

“We have no comment to make on any possible French casualties,” he added.

French Gazelle helicopters were deployed to support troops.

Local media reported that French special forces operating in the Sahel were injured in the clash.

Around 4,000 French troops are deployed under Operation Barkhane alongside the United Nations’ 12,000-member Minusma peacekeeping operation in Mali.

Minusma is currently conducting two operations in northern Mali, the mission said on Thursday.

On Saturday, the Malian Armed Forces said that 15 militants were killed in a counter-terror operation in the central Mopti region. One soldier was killed and two others injured.

The recent unrest in Mali began with a 2012 Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by jihadists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the north.

France launched an intervention in its former colony in 2013. That mission evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment launched in 2014 with an expanded mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region of West Africa, and around 4,000 French troops are deployed.

In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but other insurgents remain active, linked to drug, arms and migrant trafficking in the vast Sahel region.

The al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) on Saturday claimed responsibility for an April 14 attack on the international military “Supercamp” at the airport in northern Mali’s historic city of Timbuktu.

One U.N. peacekeeper from Burkina Faso was killed, 14 U.N. and French soldiers along with at least two civilians were wounded. According to the French military, at least 15 attackers were killed. The United Nations said it marked the biggest single attack on its peacekeepers since they were deployed to Mali in July 2013.

With reporting from AFP

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