French forces strike jihadists in central Mali
Attack on Macina rebel group comes amid Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s visit to officialise about €85m of development aid
Paris — French warplanes struck a group of jihadists in central Mali at the weekend, killing or wounding 15 of them, the defence ministry in Paris said on Monday.
The raid — the second in 48 hours — took place north of Mopti on Saturday evening, as French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and defence minister Florence Parly were visiting Mali.
Two Mirage 2000 jets, aided by a Reaper drone, took off from Niamey in neighbouring Niger to carry out the strike, which targeted forces from the Macina rebel group in the Dialoube region.
The defence ministry did not specify how many jihadists were killed and how many were wounded, saying only they were “put out of action”.
France has about 2,700 troops stationed in Mali as part of its Barkhane anti-insurgency campaign in the region, which comprises a total of some 4,500 soldiers.
In addition to French troops, about 15,000 peacekeepers have been deployed in the country as part of the UN’s stabilisation mission, known as MINUSMA.
But the Malian authorities have struggled to improve security since France intervened in 2013 to drive back Islamic insurgents in the north, and large swathes of the country remain out of the government’s control.
In January, UN chief Antonio Guterres said more than half of the attacks by armed groups targeted Malian security forces in the central Mopti region, and around Timbuktu and Gao in the north.
The strike on Saturday came a day after France announced that it had killed a top jihadist leader and 10 of his men in Mali.
Djamel Okacha, an Algerian commander with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed on Thursday after French commandos, helicopters and a drone hit a column of vehicles he was travelling in north of Timbuktu, French officials said.
Okacha, a jihadist veteran also known as Yahya Abou El Hamame, was “the mastermind and financier of several attacks,” the defence ministry said.
US officials had accused him of kidnapping a number of Westerners in North and West Africa.
Philippe and Parly were in Mali at the weekend to beef up support for the country in its fight against jihadism and officialise about €85m of development aid.