Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said his people would not be frightened by “barbaric attacks” after unidentified gunmen killed at least 14 soldiers in a pre-dawn assault on a military camp.
West Africa’s arid Sahel region is suffering a spike 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 group of around 30 heavily armed fighters attacked the military camp in Soumpi, in the centre of the country, according to an army statement read on state radio.
It said 14 soldiers were killed and 15 others wounded, adding 17 attackers were killed in the battle.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
“The soldiers abandoned their position. The enemy carried away material,” said an army officer, adding the camp wasoverrun and asked not to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Islamist fighters seized control of Mali’s northern desert regions in 2012 before being driven back by a French-led intervention a year later.
Despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping mission and troops operating under a regional French anti-militant mission, violence is on the rise and attacks are spreading further south toward Bamako.
“These barbaric attacks will not scare us. On the contrary, they reinforce our determination to fight the terrorists,” President Keita said, speaking in Boni where 26 people were killed on Thursday.
Those victims were travelling from neighbouring Burkina Faso in a civilian passenger vehicle when it struck a landmine.
In a separate incident the same day in the nearby Youwarou, the Malian military said its forces repelled an attack by suspected Islamist fighters.
Mali and its western neighbour Senegal plan to deploy 1,000 troops in an operation to pacify central Mali and contain jihadists previously confined to its Saharan expanses in the north.
Analysts doubt they will be able to do so purely through military means. The Islamists exploit the grievances of Fulani cattle herders and their disputes with local farmers over access to grazing lands.
Government’s periodic crackdowns on suspected jihadists have targeted the Fulani, driving some into the the armed groups.