French soldiers have killed more than 30 fighters in Mali in two days of operations targeting the ISIL (ISIS group) and al-Qaeda-linked groups, French armed forces have said.
France, the former colonial power that once ruled number of West African countries, has about 4,500 soldiers in the region conducting Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has a 13,000-strong peacekeeping operation in Mali in what may be the world body’s most dangerous mission so far.
The French troops’ most recent operations took place on Thursday and Friday.
In the Gourma region, soldiers of the French Barkhane force killed about 20 fighters and destroyed several vehicles, while in the Liptako region, a stronghold for ISIL, 10 more were killed, the army said. The operations involved a drone, warplanes and two helicopters, it added.
In December, French forces killed 33 fighters in Mali using attack helicopters, ground troops and a drone near the border with Mauritania where a group linked to al-Qaeda operates.
The UN, France and the United States have poured billions of dollars into stabilising the Sahel, but with little success. The region has seen a rise in violence in recent months, feeding a feeling of increased insecurity among locals, with millions displaced.
Last month, the UN envoy for West Africa told the UN Security Council that attacks have increased fivefold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016. More than 4,000 deaths were reported in 2019.
In November, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed a thorough review of Operation Barkhane after 13 French soldiers died in an air collision in November.
Following a meeting in Ouagadougou in January with the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, Macron vowed to take measures to increase coordination with the local militaries.
He also said France would ramp up intervention in the “tri-borders” region of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, where much of the violence occurred.
On Sunday, France said it planned to deploy 600 more soldiers to the area. To date, 41 French soldiers have been killed in the operation.