Fifteen soldiers and six civilians have been killed in attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso, neighbouring West African countries that are struggling against armed groups.
Vehicles packed with explosives were driven into three military camps in central Mali before dawn on Sunday, the military said in a statement. Six soldiers were killed and 15 wounded at the Sevare camp, and five were wounded at two other locations.
Across the border in northern Burkina Faso, simultaneous attacks early Sunday on military detachments in Gaskinde and Pobe-Mengao killed nine soldiers and six civilians, including two who were members of an armed self-defence group, the military said in a statement.
About 30 soldiers were also wounded in the three attacks in Mali that were claimed by Katiba Macina, a group linked to the firebrand preacher Amadou Koufa.
Katiba Macina is part of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance operating in the Sahel.
“On Sunday morning, the mujahideen of the Katiba Macina struck three camps of the (Malian armed forces),” a member of the group said in an audio message sent to AFP.
“We hit these camps at the same time within five minutes of each other. [Apart from the] deaths, we caused material damage to them,” the audio recording said.
Military sources said 11 attackers were killed during the raid on the Sevare military camp, where two AK-47 assault rifles, mobile phones and other military equipment was recovered from the deceased.
“The situation is under control. The FAMa (Malian armed forces) are combing through the target sectors and security measures are being reinforced,” the military said in a statement.
A request has been sent to the UN Mission in Mali seeking deployment of a rapid intervention force to the Sevare camp, a mission member confirmed.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Mali is fighting rebels in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Unrest, caused by groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS), has also spread into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Military fighter groups snatched power in Mali and Burkina Faso in the last two years promising to provide greater security than their democratically elected predecessors. But violent attacks on civilians and the army persist.
The armed forces of both countries have been accused of abuses against civilians in their attempt to root the rebels out from rural desert communities.
The rebels’ southward advance from northern Mali prompted France to intervene militarily in 2013 as violence increased.
In February, Paris announced it would end its almost decade-long military operation in Mali amid a diplomatic crisis with the Bamako military group over its alleged use of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, which is accused of committing human rights abuses and has been sanctioned by the European Union.
The Malian government denies the accusations and says it is using Russian military instructors.
France and the United States have said the Russians are mercenary fighters with Wagner, whose presence has been recorded in other conflict-torn African nations such as the Central African Republic and Libya.