Ten troops were killed in Mali’s troubled central region early on Wednesday when their camp came under attack from jihadists, security sources said.
Their position at Boni, located between Douentza and Hombori in the Mopti region, was attacked by “heavily armed individuals in armoured vehicles”, one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Several soldiers were injured, the source said, an account confirmed by another security official and a local government official.
The 10 bodies had been brought back to the airport in Sevare, near the town of Mopti, by a helicopter from the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force, while the injured were taken to hospital, local officials said.
The security source said the camp had been seriously damaged and the assailants had made off with lots of equipment.
Tadayt, a propaganda outlet close to Al-Qaeda, claimed that the attack had been carried out by the Group to Support 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 raging in Mali since 2012, when jihadists overtook a rebellion by mostly ethnic Tuareg separatists in the north.
The conflict, which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians, then spread to central Mali, an ethnic powderkeg, and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Jihadist attacks in central Mali typically involve roadside bombs or hit-and-run raids on motorbikes or pickups, and the use of armoured vehicles, if confirmed, is extremely rare.
Heni Nsaibia, a researcher with an NGO project called the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), said jihadists had seized armoured 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, Mirage 2000 jets and two Tiger helicopters had attacked ground targets while Malian troops “made a tactical withdrawal and regrouped outside the camp,” where they called for reinforcements.
He added that “around 20” jihadists had been killed and the armoured vehicle destroyed, along with 16 motorbikes.
A Malian military official said the assailants had suffered “major casualties” but did not give details.
Central Mali has seen a string of deadly attacks since the start of the year, including a roadside bomb that killed four UN peacekeepers from Ivory Coast.
French and Malian troops have also carried out a joint mission in the area, called Operation Eclipse. According to a Malian army statement on January 26, “100 terrorists were neutralised” in the operation.