At least 25 Malian soldiers have been killed in an attack on a military base in the northern town of Bamba, the government said in the latest bout of violence in the West African nation.
A dozen assailants were also “neutralised” during the “terrorist” attack early on Monday morning, the government said in a statement, without specifying which group may have been involved in the assault.
A resident of Bamba, who spoke to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, said armed men had been riding motorbikes around nearby villages since Sunday, before gathering for the dawn attack.
“We saw 23 bodies on the spot,” the Bamba resident said, describing the aftermath of the raid, adding that fighters had destroyed the camp and stolen equipment.
“No civilian was hurt, this was an operation against the camp,” the resident added.
No group has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack.
Mali’s army has repeatedly suffered heavy casualties from armed groups active in the area with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
A localised revolt that began in northern Mali in 2012 has spread to the centre of the country and to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, where security has swiftly deteriorated over the past year amid a “fireball of conflict” involving multiple armed groups, military campaigns by national armies and international partners as well as local militias.
About 4,000 people died in the three countries last year, a fivefold increase compared with 2016, according to the United Nations figures.
Former colonial power France has deployed thousands of troops across the semi-arid swath of land beneath the Sahara desert known as the Sahel, but French officials acknowledge they have failed to slow the violence.
The Mali attack comes despite attempts to reinvigorate the country’s political life in the hope of staunching the bloodshed.
The former French colony braved threats of violence and coronavirus infection to stage much-delayed parliamentary elections on March 29.
The hope is that the new National Assembly will implement reforms from a 2015 peace agreement brokered between the government in Bamako and several armed groups.
The implementation has been painfully slow, although this year saw the Malian army deploy units made up of both former rebels and regulars – a key provision of the deal.
The pact also provides for government decentralisation, a demand of some of the rebel groups.
Parallel to these efforts, the government in Bamako has also said it is prepared to enter into talks with armed groups.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated armed groups have indicated that they are prepared to negotiate with the government, but only if French and UN troops pull out.