Ten troops were killed in Mali’s troubled central region early Wednesday when their camps were attacked by jihadists, security sources said.
Their position at Boni, located between Douentza and Hombori in the Mopti region, was attacked by “heavily armed individuals in armored vehicles”, said a source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several soldiers were injured, the source said, an account confirmed by another security official and a local official.
The ten bodies had been taken back to the airport in Sevare, near the town of Mopti, by a helicopter from the UN MINUSMA peacekeeping force, while the injured were taken to hospital, local officials said.
The security source said that the camp had been seriously damaged and the attackers had taken off with a lot of equipment.
Tadayt, a propaganda outpost near al-Qaeda, claimed that the attack had been carried out by the group supporting Islam and Muslims (GSIM), seen as the most dangerous of the many jihadist groups active in the Sahel region.
The attack is the latest in a brutal conflict that has been going on in Mali since 2012, when jihadists revolted against mostly ethnic Tuareg separatists in the north.
The conflict, which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians, then spread to central Mali, an ethnic powderbox, and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Jihadist attacks in central Mali usually involve roadside bombs or hit-and-raids on motorcycles or pickups, and the use of armored vehicles is, if confirmed, extremely rare.
Heni Nsaibia, a researcher with an NGO project called Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), says jihadists have taken armored vehicles from the armed forces in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The Malian army said on social media that it had received air support from France’s anti-jihadist Barkhane mission in the Sahel.
French Army spokesman Frederic Barbry said a drone, a Mirage 2000 jet and two tiger helicopters had attacked ground targets while the Malian troops “made a tactical withdrawal and regrouped outside the camp”, demanding reinforcements.
He added that “about 20” jihadists were killed and the armored vehicle destroyed, along with 16 motorcycles.
A Malaysian military official said the attackers had suffered “major accidents” but left no details.
Central Mali has seen a series of deadly attacks since the beginning of the year, including a roadblock that killed four UN peacekeepers from Côte d’Ivoire.
French and Malian troops have also carried out a joint mission in the area, called Operation Eclipse. According to a statement from the Malian army on January 26, “100 terrorists” were neutralized in the operation.