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16 soldiers killed in Mali terrorist attack

A soldier sits in a Malian Defense Forces vehicle in Timbuktu, Mali, on September 9, 2021. (File photo by AFP)

Sixteen soldiers have been killed and 10 injured in a militant attack in central Mali, officials have announced.

The attack occurred near the village of Bodio in the Mopti region — the main center of violence by Takfiri terrorists in Mali — on Wednesday, according to Moulaye Guindo, the mayor of the nearby town of Bankass.

In a statement, Mali’s army said that troops had fought off a “complex IED attack,” referring to an improvised explosive device, and then came under heavy gunfire shortly before 11:30 a.m.

The army blamed the attack on Takfiri terrorist groups and announced that 15 of the assailants had been killed and 20 motorcycles seized.

Takfiri terrorist groups commonly use roadside bombs in their attacks in the region. On September 20, one such attack killed four soldiers in central Mali, while five soldiers died there in an ambush on September 12.

Central Mali has become a flashpoint in the Sahel-wide conflict since 2012, where ethnic killings and attacks on government forces and civilians are frequent and are increasing despite the presence of French and UN troops.

Militant activity has also spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, with the tri-border area between these countries, known as the Liptako Gourma region, being the focal point of the fighting.

In 2017, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali, and Mauritania launched the so-called G5 Sahel task force to counter the militancy in the region.

A French mission also began in Mali in 2013 to allegedly counter militants that Paris claims are linked to the al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorist groups. France, a former colonizer of Africa, also deployed thousands of soldiers to presumably prevent separatist forces from reaching Mali’s capital, Bamako.

In June 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that his country would soon withdraw more than 2,000 troops from West Africa’s Sahel region and begin the process of shutting its bases in northern Mali later this year.

France currently has 5,100 troops in the arid and volatile Sahel region. Under the new plan, they will be reduced to 2,500-3,000 troops.

Relations between Paris and Mali have been tense since two coups in the Sahel country since August 2020. France is also worried about the alleged deployment of Russian mercenaries in the country.

Some observers have, however, expressed suspicions about the actual goal sought by Paris inside its former colony, which boasts rich mineral reserves.

Almost 7,000 people died due to the fighting in Mali last year, according to the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project, while the UN declared recently that more than two million people had been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, a number that has quadrupled since 2019.

More than 14 million people in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

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