Twenty-five Malian soldiers were killed and six injured in an apparent jihadist attack on Monday, the government said, in the latest bout of violence to hit the war-torn West African state.
A dozen assailants were also “neutralised”, the government said in a statement, during what it called a “terrorist attack” on a military base in the northern town of Bamba.
A local official said the attackers arrived on motorbikes and in cars.
“Investigations are still ongoing on the ground because the death toll must be higher than the 20 deaths announced,” the official said.
Mali has been struggling to contain a jihadist revolt that first broke out in the north in 2012, and has since spread to the centre of the country and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of Malian soldiers and civilians have died, despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops.
It was not immediately clear who carried out Monday’s attack.
A resident of Bamba, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said armed men had been riding motorbikes around nearby villages since Sunday, before gathering for the dawn attack.
“We saw 23 bodies on the spot,” the Bamba resident said, describing the aftermath of the raid. The resident added that militants had destroyed the camp and stolen equipment.
“No civilian was hurt, this was an operation against the camp,” the resident said.
A Malian army official stationed in northern Mali confirmed an attack had taken place in Bamba but said there had been losses on both sides.
He added the army did not have a clear idea of enemy losses as the raiders took their casualties with them when they left.
Another military official told AFP that reinforcements had been dispatched to the area.
The attack in Mali follows another in jihadist-ridden northern Cameroon on Sunday.
Two suicide bombers — suspected to be members of Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist group — blew themselves up in a border town in the Central African country and killed eight people.
The Mali attack comes despite attempts to reinvigorate the country’s political life in the hope of staunching the bloodshed.
The former French colony braved threats of violence and coronavirus infection on March 29 to stage much-delayed elections to parliament.
The hope is that the new assembly will implement reforms from a 2015 peace agreement brokered between the Bamako government and several armed groups.
Implementation has been painfully slow, although this year saw the Malian army deploy units made up of both former rebels and regulars — a key provision of the deal.
The pact also provides for government decentralisation, a demand of some of the rebel groups.
Parallel to these efforts, the government in Bamako has also said it is prepared to enter into talks with jihadist groups.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists have indicated that they are prepared to negotiate with the government, but only if French and UN troops pull out.