France state

Death toll from attacks on Malian soldiers rises to 42: army

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Bamako (AFP) – Forty-two Malian soldiers died in an attack over the weekend by suspected jihadists, the military said in a document naming the dead on Wednesday, revising an earlier figure of 21 dead.

The toll is one of the bloodiest in Mali’s decade-long insurgency, which has spread from the north of the country to the center and south, as well as into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The document was authenticated to AFP by several senior military officials.

The attack happened on Sunday in the town of Tessit, in the troubled “three borders” region where the borders of the three nations converge.

On Monday, the army said 17 soldiers and four civilians were dead. Relatives of the victims, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of the civilians were elected officials.

Monday’s statement also said seven assailants were dead, “likely members of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and with drone and artillery support and using explosives and an explosive-laden vehicle.” .

The last time the Malian armed forces suffered such losses was during a series of attacks in the same region in late 2019 and early 2020.

Hundreds of soldiers were killed in assaults on nearly a dozen bases, usually carried out by highly mobile fighters on motorcycles.

The raids prompted Malian, Nigerien, and Burkinabè forces to withdraw from forward bases and retreat to better defended locations.

In January 2020, France and its Sahel allies agreed on a push against ISGS at a summit in Pau, southwestern France.

Several of its leaders were targeted and killed, including its founder, Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui, but locals say the group continued to recruit and carry out its operations.

Hotspot

Tessit is one of the hotspots of the three borders.

The ISGS is fighting for control of the strategic gold-rich area against an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

In March 2021, 33 soldiers were killed in an ambush claimed by the ISGS while the units were on rotation, and in February this year around 40 civilians – suspected by the ISGS of being in cahoots with al-Qaeda – were massacred.

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Mobile phone connections to the area have been frequently cut in recent years and physical access is difficult, especially during the mid-year rainy season.

Thousands of people have fled Tessit to the nearest large town, Gao, some 150 kilometers (90 miles) to the north.

Across the Sahel, the jihadist campaign has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than two million people to flee their homes.

Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin to the south, amplifying fears of a jihadist push towards the Gulf of Guinea.