Seventeen soldiers have been killed and 35 wounded in central Mali in an assault on their military base that authorities called a "coordinated terrorist attack". 

The raid on Tuesday is the biggest in months on the army in Mali, a country that faces a growing threat from armed groups based in the desert north. 

"The toll has increased: we have lost 17 men and 35 are wounded," Mali's defence minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly said. Authorities had earlier announced 12 soldiers were killed. 

Army spokesman Souleymane Maiga told Reuters news agency the raiders briefly took control of the base in Nampala, which is set in semi-desert scrubland close to the Mauritanian border. He said Malian troops retreated to nearby Diabaly to regroup.

Maiga said three groups staged the raid: Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb attacked from the north, the Macina Liberation Front linked to Ansar Dine waited outside the town to ambush military reinforcements, and an ethnic Peul group attacked from the southeast.

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His comments tie in with a claim of responsibility by Ansar Dine, which said its Macina Battalion staged the raid. A Malian intelligence source told Reuters the militants took seized weapons and vehicles to a forest.

The Malian government said the attackers would be hunted down and punished, and that the military had control of Nampala.

"One thing is sure, this was a terrorist action that targeted a military objective. So an appropriate military response is forthcoming," Coulibaly said.

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Mali is awash with guns and is home to rival armed groups nursing local grievances. The country has seen a surge in violence since a 2015 peace agreement, which has failed to prevent violence between different ethnic factions.

French forces intervened in 2013 to drive back Islamist fighters who had hijacked a Tuareg uprising in 2012 to take over the desert north. Despite 11,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed since, militants launch attacks across Mali and its neighbors.

Assailants also killed 20 people last November in a high-profile attack on a hotel in the capital, Bamako.

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Source: Agencies