In a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast on Saturday, Macron said that French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by the fighters in central Mali’s city of Mopti.
“This morning … we were able to neutralise 33 terrorists, take one prisoner and free two Malian gendarmes who had been held hostage,” Macron said during the speech.
French forces onboard helicopters used a drone to guide them to a target in a forest-covered zone where Katiba Macina, a group linked to al-Qaeda, operates, French army command said.
It was the same forest where France wrongly claimed it had killed Katiba Macina leader Amadou Koufa a year ago.
A spokesman for the French army’s chief of staff declined to say at this stage whether Koufa was the target again this time.
It was not the same area of Mali where 13 French soldiers died last month in a helicopter crash.
That was the biggest loss of French troops in a single day since an attack in Beirut 36 years ago and raised questions about the human cost to France of its six-year campaign against rebels in West Africa.
Macron, who is visiting Ivory Coast to celebrate Christmas with the French troops, said on Friday that Paris would work to give “new force” to the fight against the armed groups in Africa’s Sahel region.
The violence in several poor Sahel nations will be a top item on Macron’s agenda in his 48-hour stay in a region where attacks have spread since a rebellion began seven years ago in Mali.
France, the former colonial power in Mali and Ivory Coast, is the only Western country with a significant military presence in Mali and the wider Sahel, an arid region of West Africa below the Sahara desert.
French officials have expressed frustration that some nations in the region have not done more to curb criticism of its interventions.
Paris is also vexed that some countries have not fully implemented deals to bring more stability to areas of the Sahel with little law and order.