Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 29 November 2020

Malian government urges unity as number of troops killed in extremist attacks rises

Attacks on Monday and Tuesday were crushing blow to Mali’s armed forces

Malian soldiers in the G5 Sahel joint military force on patrol during a 2017 operation. AFP
Malian soldiers in the G5 Sahel joint military force on patrol during a 2017 operation. AFP

The death toll in two attacks this week on Malian military camps near the Burkina Faso border has risen to 38 soldiers, the Defence Minister said on Thursday, calling for unity.

"I am very proud of these paratroopers, who defended their positions," Ibrahima Dahirou Dembele said on national radio. "But unfortunately, today we buried 38 bodies."

The minister, speaking from Boulkessey, the scene of one of the attacks, said 33 missing soldiers were found alive, eight of whom were receiving treatment.

Mr Dembele did not say if any more were still missing.

An earlier death toll after the attacks on Monday and Tuesday put the number of fatalities at 25 troops, with dozens missing.

"In spite of this hard blow, we have to stick together," Mr Dembele said. "It's a tough, difficult fight. But in the face of this war, we have to remain united behind our leader."

Using heavily armed vehicles, the militants raided two military camps, at Boulkessy and Mondoro.

Fifteen militants were killed in the raids, the government said, which began early on Monday and took more than a day to quell.

The attacks were eventually subdued with the help of Malian special forces and foreign allies, including French warplanes and helicopters.

The militants made off with a large amount of weapons, ammunition and equipment.

Local media reported about 20 vehicles were captured, including some with mounted machineguns.

Three days of national mourning, declared by President Ibrahim Boubabcar Keita, began on Thursday.

Hundreds of angry youths and wives of soldiers demonstrated outside a military camp in the capital Bamako late on Wednesday, where protesters burnt tyres.

"We came here because the government is not telling the truth about the number of dead," one solder's wife told AFP.

"It's our husbands, the red berets, who are at Boulkessy."

Ali Dialite, 15, said: "My father is a soldier. He's at Boulkessy, and I haven't any news of him. They're lying to us. The army is under-equipped."

The losses come as a crushing blow to Mali's armed forces, which are flailing in the face of an extremist revolt that has spread from the arid north to its centre, an ethnically mixed and volatile region.

The operation is also a humiliation for the G5 Sahel anti-terrorist force of 5,000 men from five countries, and for France, which is committed to strengthening security in the fragile region.

Two army helicopters and about a dozen vehicles were burnt in the attack on Boulkessy, AFP reported.

The camp there, which included a Malian battalion that was part of the G5 Sahel, was destroyed.

The force's secretariat said the assailants were members of Ansarul Islam, militants accused of several attacks in northern Burkina Faso.

Militants lost control of northern Mali after the French military intervention, but regrouped as a mobile guerrilla force to carry out hit-and-run raids and mine attacks.

They also moved to the country's central region, where they have inflamed long-standing resentments between ethnic groups, analysts say.

On March 17, the Malian army lost nearly 30 men in an attack on a camp in Dioura, also in the troubled central region.

That assault came after a massacre of 160 Fulani villagers in a bloodbath that led to a military reshuffle and the government's resignation.

Updated: October 4, 2019 03:54 AM

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