New bloody attack in Mali. At least 17 soldiers and 4 civilians were killed on Sunday, and 9 other soldiers are missing, after an attack attributed to jihadists in the town of Tessit in the so-called border triangle between Mali, Burkina and Niger. The findings are “always preliminary and likely to change,” according to a statement released on Monday by the Malian army, which said seven enemies “probably killed by the Islamic State in the Great Sahara, benefiting from drone and artillery support” using explosives and vehicle bombs”.
The Malian staff also reports 22 wounded in the army, significant material losses including three vehicles destroyed and damage to other vehicles, Fama facilities and civilian homes. Some of the civilians killed were local elected officials, relatives of the victims told AFP on condition of anonymity. On the “enemy” side, the army cites “an unknown number of dead and wounded carried away by the attackers,” in addition to the seven dead. An earlier Army assessment put 4 soldiers and 2 civilians killed and 5 “enemy side” dead.
The Tessit sector, on the Malian side of the border triangle, in a vast rural bush region not controlled by the state, has been the scene of repeated clashes and attacks.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated armed groups, assembled under the leadership of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, JNIM in Arabic), are fighting the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group, which is affiliated with the organization IS. The jihadists seek control of this strategic and gold-bearing zone.
Also the Malian Army, stationed in a military camp next to the city of Tessit, was deployed frequently in this region and in Tessit in particular. Peacekeepers from the UN mission in Mali also operate in this area, sometimes referred to as “Malian Gourma”.
As elsewhere in Mali, civilians are caught in the crossfire of these conflicting factions and accused of being allied with one when they are not with the other. Residents in the area have fled by the thousands, particularly to the large neighboring city of Gao, some 150 km to the north.
Departure from Barkhane
French soldiers from Operation Barkhane also conducted operations there a few months ago. They are preparing to leave their last base in Mali, in Gao, to resettle in Niger.
On Sunday, the Barkhane force announced that it had neutralized a squad and several jihadist fighters in the Telatai region, 200 km northeast of Gao, after identifying them “thanks to cross-referencing different sources of information”.
In a very deteriorated security context, the junta has decided to part with the old French ally, which has been present in Mali for nine years, and to resume cooperation with Russia.