Mali firefight leaves 30 dead


French and Malian troops killed about 30 Islamist insurgents during a gun battle near the border with Niger, where Islamic State are known to be active, the French army said.

West Africa’s arid Sahel region has seen a rise in violence by militant groups, some with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State, that is drawing an increasingly aggressive response from countries including France and the United States.

A Mali-based al Qaeda affiliate, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), claimed responsibility for a March 2 assault on the French Embassy and army headquarters in Burkina Faso’s capital that killed eight people.

Colonel Patrik Steiger said soldiers from France’s Barkhane force and Malian troops were on a reconnaissance mission) south of Menaka on Sunday when they encountered several dozen Islamist fighters, some on motorcycles.

A number of Malian soldiers died in the ensuing firefight, Steiger said, without giving more details. No French troops were hurt.

Five countries – Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania – backed by France, launched a new task force last year to tackle Islamist militants in the region, to which international donors have committed half a billion dollars.