Malian soldiers killed …as France winds up operations

Four soldiers and two civilians have been killed in a militant attack in Mali’s northern Gao region where French Barkhane forces were winding up operations, the Malian army (FAMA) has said.

Five militants were also killed as FAMA repelled the “complex and coordinated attack” on Tessit town on Sunday, the army said in a statement posted to social media.

The raid took place as Barkhane troops prepared to close their last helicopter hanger in Gao, ahead of a final withdrawal from the Sahel nation at the end of August.

“The re-articulation outside the border of Mali continues,” the French forces said in a brief statement on Twitter on Sunday.

Mali has severed defence co-operation with key regional and international stakeholders, and was involved in a standoff with United Nations (UN) peacekeepers, foreshadowing further deterioration in regional security.

This has been exacerbated by the deployment of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries in the Sahel nation.

Their presence has triggered threats from al-Qaeda’s Sahel branch to blockade the Malian capital, Bamako, and escalate attacks on the country’s military rulers.

Widespread anger at chronic insecurity in the West African countries of Mali and Burkina Faso paved the way for military men to kick out failing governments over the past two years.

“There’s no more room for mistakes,” said Mali’s coup leader as he seized power in August 2020.

“We have more than what it takes to win this war,” echoed Burkina Faso’s new man in charge earlier this year. So are citizens now safer? The short answer is, no.

In both countries, attacks by Islamist militants on civilians have only increased. The same was true of civilian deaths – more ordinary people were being killed by Islamists, militants and the military.

“The tallies for each year are increasing year by year,” says Héni Nsaibia, a senior researcher covering West Africa’s Sahel region for the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED).

Data supplied to the BBC by ACLED in June compared the 661 days before and after Mali’s coup in August 2020, and the 138 days before and after Burkina Faso’s coup in January 2022. -BBC

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