(AFP) A day after dozens of Malian soldiers died in a devastating jihadist raid on a military base, a roadside bomb killed two more troops in the violence-wracked West African country, the army said Sunday.
Six soldiers were also injured in the latest string of attacks underscoring the fragility of a region where growing jihadist violence has claimed hundreds of lives.
The attack on Saturday occurred when the soldiers’ armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the central region of Mopti, the army said in a tweet.
Mali is fighting a jihadist insurgency with the help of UN peacekeepers and a French force in place in the region since 2014.
It is one of the countries in the Sahel region of Africa that has been caught in the eye of the jihadist storm since 2012, along with Niger, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.
Saturday’s attack followed the death of 49 Malian soldiers on Friday in a raid by jihadists on a military base at Indelimane, near Menaka in the eastern Gao region that borders Niger.
A French soldier also died in Gao on Saturday after his armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
A Malian army officer told AFP that Friday’s surprise attack was by gunmen riding motorbikes, the favoured means of transport of the jihadist fighters in the region.
According to a UN report on the attack that AFP was able to consult, three different groups attacked the Indelimane military base simultaneously.
MINUSMA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, helped the army build the base last year. So too did soldiers from France’s 4,500-strong Barkhane force, deployed in the Sahel region of Africa since 2014.
The French soldier killed by the roadside bomb attack Saturday belonged to that force.
The Islamic State group claimed both Friday’s attack on at Indelimane and the roadside bomb that killed the French soldier in a statement Saturday signed from its “West African province”.
A spokesman for the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, the group’s branch in the Sahel, confirmed to AFP on Sunday that they had carried out the attack.
– ‘France remains our main enemy’ –
“We had learned that the Malian army was working in the camps with apostates,” said ‘Abdoul Chiquiti’, the spokesman’s nom de guerre.
“We succeeded in wiping out the camp,” he said, while adding: “France remains our main enemy.”
Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, has so far not made any public statement about the latest attacks.
But these losses come a month after jihadist attacks on military bases at Mondoro and Boulkessi near the southern border with Burkina Faso.
The official toll from those attacks was 40, but a number of observers have argued that the real losses might have been higher.
Following those attacks, the wives of soldiers staged several protests in the capital Bamako and in the central town of Sevare.
Northern Mali fell into the hands of jihadists in 2012 before the militants were forced out by a French-led military intervention.
Neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger have also been infiltrated by insurgents, at the cost of hundreds of lives.
Burkina Faso’s Prime Minister Christophe Joseph Marie Dabire offered his condolences to Mali on Saturday for the soldiers killed the day before.
Since 2016, jihadist attacks have killed 204 Burkinabe soldiers and at least 630 civilians, according to an AFP tally. According to the United Nations, the violence there has forced half a million people to flee their homes.
The G5 Sahel, a five-nation joint task force set up in 2014 to tackle the jihadist threat, is active in the region, comprising troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.