The Malian army announced the killing of 8 soldiers and the “neutralization” of dozens of terrorists in the recent clashes

The Malian army said on Saturday that eight soldiers and 57 “terrorists” were killed in clashes at a rebel base in northern Mali where rival jihadist groups, including the so-called Islamic State, are active.

Friday’s fighting followed an air strike that broke out 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 on the rebel base after its forces were attacked by “unidentified gunmen” in the Arsham region in the conflict-ridden north, near the volatile borders with Burkina Faso and Niger.

The military said eight soldiers were killed and 57 armed rebels were “neutralized” in the “violent clashes” that followed.

Mali, a landlocked country of 21 million people, struggled to contain a brutal jihadist insurgency that emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and two million people displaced due to the conflict across the Sahel, in which Mali remains the epicenter.

About 40 civilians – believed to be loyal to rival jihadist groups, according to local sources – were killed this week in the same area where the incident occurred on Friday.

It took place in the so-called “Three Borders” region, a hotspot of jihadist violence where the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and the largest jihadist alliance in the Sahel, the al-Qaeda-allied GSIM group, are particularly active.

The Malian army said it was looking for “terrorist havens” in the region.

The forces deployed in the “three borders” area include the Malian army, as well as French, European and United Nations peacekeepers.

French withdrawal Just a day before, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of French forces from Mali.

France first intervened in the country in 2013 and currently has around 4,600 troops stationed throughout the Sahel region, of which 2,400 are in Mali.

But relations between the two countries deteriorated sharply after officers in the Malian army led by Colonel Asmi Gueta ousted President-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August 2020.

The army then ousted civilian leaders in a transitional government last year in a second coup.

Mali’s international partners – including France and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – insisted the junta stick to its pledge to hold elections in February 2022 and restore civilian rule.

But the military council then put forward plans to stay in power for up to five years.

Mali’s army-led government on Friday asked France to withdraw its forces from the Sahel region “without delay”.

Mali has also asked the small European Takuba group of special forces, which was formed in 2020, to leave quickly.

But Macron responded with a statement saying he would not threaten the safety of French soldiers and that the withdrawal would take place “in an orderly manner”.

(AFP)

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