Twin attacks on the army in central Mali killed six soldiers, while some 30 suspected jihadists were also left dead in a fightback with help from French troops, the military said Sunday.
The attacks occurred overnight Saturday to Sunday near the border with Burkina Faso at army positions that have been targeted in the past, with a deadly Islamist offensive having begun in northern Mali in 2012 before spreading elsewhere.
“The provisional toll is six dead and 18 wounded” among the soldiers, the army said in a statement, adding that “thanks to quick reactions and effective coordination between the Malian army and French Barkhane forces, the attackers were routed” leaving around 30 dead.
It was not immediately clear what the role of the French troops in the engagement was, although a Malian military source told AFP French aircraft destroyed several “terrorist” targets.
The raids occurred at Boulkessy and Mondoro in the violence-wracked center of the Sahel country.
The “complex and simultaneous” attacks occurred at around 3:30 am (0330 GMT), the army said, with a local official in Mondoro estimating that the fighting continued for around an hour.
Some 40 motorcycles and a large amount of military gear were seized from the attackers, according to the army.
A number of wounded soldiers were evacuated by helicopter, a medical source said.
In September 2019, the same army positions were targeted in one of the deadliest attacks to hit Mali since 2012, with some 50 soldiers killed.
That double attack was later claimed by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel region affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
On Thursday, three other Malian soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in the Mondoro area.
Mali has received support in its fight against the jihadists from France’s Barkhane force, which numbers 5,100 troops spread across the arid Sahel region.
In addition to Mali, the French force has been fighting jihadist groups alongside soldiers from Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
The UN has also deployed to Mali its 13,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping force, which has suffered 146 hostile deaths since it was first established in 2013.
Violence linked to jihadist and separatist insurrections in Mali since 2012 have killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands displaced, with the country’s center having become one of the main flashpoints.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said recently that more than two million people in the wider Sahel had fled their homes due to violence.
The UN Security Council held a meeting earlier this month devoted to Mali’s long-running crisis.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern about the deteriorating security environment, pointing to the situation in central Mali as particularly worrying.