BAMAKO (AFP) – Eight soldiers and 57 “terrorists” were killed in clashes at a rebel base in northern Mali where rival extremist groups, including the so-called Islamic State (IS), are active, the Malian army said on Saturday.
Friday’s fighting followed an air raid and erupted just a day after France and its allies announced their military withdrawal from the African country.
The Malian army said it carried out the attack against the rebel base after its troops had been attacked by “unidentified armed men” in the Archam region in the conflict-plagued north, near the border with restive Burkina Faso and Niger.
Eight soldiers died and 57 armed rebels were “neutralised” in the ensuing “violent clashes”, the army said.
Mali, a landlocked nation of 21 million people, has struggled to contain a brutal extremist insurgency that emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and two million people have been displaced by the Sahel-wide conflict, of which Mali remains the epicentre.
About 40 civilians – believed to be loyal to rival extremist groups, according to local sources – have been killed this week in the same area where the incident last Friday occurred.
It took place in the so-called “three borders” area, a hotspot of extremist violence where the IS in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and the Sahel’s largest extremist alliance, the al-Qaeda-aligned GSIM group, are particularly active.
The Mali army said it had been looking for “terrorist sanctuaries” in the area.
The forces deployed to the “three borders” area include Mali’s own army, as well as French and European troops and United Nations (UN) peacekeepers.
Just a day before, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of French troops from Mali.