Twenty-five Malian soldiers were killed and six others injured in an apparent jihadist attack on Monday, the government announced in the latest episode of violence in the war-torn West African state.
A dozen attackers were also “neutralized,” the government said in a statement when it called a “terrorist attack” on a military base in the northern city of Bamba.
A local official said that the attackers arrived on motorbikes and in cars.
“Investigations are still underway in the field because the death toll must be greater than the 20 deaths announced,” said the official.
Mali is struggling to contain a jihadist revolt that broke out for the first time in the north in 2012, and has since spread to the center of the country and to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of Malian soldiers and civilians have died, despite the presence of thousands of French and UN soldiers.
It was not immediately known who had carried out the attack on Monday.
A resident of Bamba, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said gunmen have been riding motorcycles around neighboring villages since Sunday before gathering for the dawn attack.
“We saw 23 bodies there,” said the Bamba resident, describing the aftermath of the raid. The resident added that activists had destroyed the camp and stolen equipment.
“No civilian was injured, it was an operation against the camp,” said the resident.
A Malian army official stationed in northern Mali confirmed that an attack had taken place in Bamba but said there had been casualties on both sides.
He added that the army did not have a clear idea of enemy casualties, as the looters took their victims with them when they left.
Another military official told AFP that reinforcements had been sent to the region.
The attack in Mali follows another in northern Cameroon, a jihadist, on Sunday.
Two suicide bombers – suspected of being members of the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram – blew themselves up in a border town in the Central African country and killed eight people.
The attack in Mali comes despite attempts to reinvigorate the country’s political life in the hope of stopping the bloodshed.
The former French colony defied threats of violence and coronavirus infection on March 29 to hold long overdue parliamentary elections.
The hope is that the new assembly will implement the reforms of a 2015 peace agreement negotiated between the government of Bamako and several armed groups.
Implementation has been painfully slow, although this year has seen the Malian army deploy units made up of both former rebels and regulars – a key provision of the agreement.
The pact also provides for decentralization of government, a request from certain rebel groups.
In addition to these efforts, the government of Bamako has also declared its readiness to enter into talks with jihadist groups.
Jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda have indicated that they are ready to negotiate with the government, but only if French and UN troops withdraw.