At least 10 Malian soldiers were killed in an overnight ambush in a central region near the Mauritanian border where armed jihadist groups are rampant, security and local sources said Friday.
It is the third time Malian security forces have suffered heavy losses since the military took power in a coup on August 18.
According to an internal security ministry report seen by AFP, 10 soldiers were killed, including a senior officer, in the attack in Guire and four vehicles were torched.
An elected official from the Guire region confirmed the toll.
“In the night, shots prevented us from sleeping, it looked like bombs, our houses were shaking,” the official told AFP by phone.
A local administrator speaking on condition of anonymity said men on motorcycles had been in the area since Monday.
Four Malian soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded on August 27 in a jihadist ambush near the central town of Mopti, before the army killed 20 enemy fighters, it said. The army said it also suffered major equipment losses.
Four soldiers had been killed five days earlier when their vehicle was hit by a bomb.
That incident also occurred in central Mali, a volatile, ethnically-diverse region that has been badly affected by the jihadist revolt.
The troubled West African country was plunged into further crisis when a military junta ousted president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, shocking Mali’s neighbors, which fear the fragile state already battling jihadism and an economic slump may slide into chaos.
The fourth coup in Mali’s 60 years as an independent nation came as the situation was getting increasingly unmanageable.
The ill-equipped army has the Herculean task of securing an area two-and-a-half times the size of France from different groups allied to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State and various militia groups, some fighting for the government and others against.
Troops rotations are not fixed and soldiers can remain on hostile terrain in barracks suspectible to attacks for up to nine months at a stretch.
“The state of the army is catastrophic. Can you imagine that the defence minister while visiting the ground at the end of 2019 learnt that the soldiers did not have water in the camp?” former security adviser Kissima Gakou said.
It is increasingly clear that the Malian army is not up to the task of ousting the jihadists without the backing of foreign allies like France, which has deployed over 5,000 soldiers in West Africa.
The military has also been blighted by repeated accusations of killing and looting civilians in the guise of anti-terrorist operations.
Corruption is another major problem. Junior soldiers accuse officers of stealing money “to swagger in the drawing rooms of Bamako,” as one put it.
In 2014, a report on soldiers’ kits found socks being sold for 35 euros a pair when the average salary of a soldier was 2 euros a day.
The coup leaders have promised to build a “New Mali” and hand over power to civilians.