Military officials in France say at least 33 members of a terrorist group died during an overnight raid on Saturday in the Mopti region of central Mali.
The Ministry of Defense said the French troops targeted a large camp of the armed extremists in a wooded area after acquiring intelligence on several groups operating in the region. They also were able to free two Malian soldiers who were taken hostage several weeks ago and discovered in the camp.
The assault was carried out by dozens of commandos in helicopters led by a Reaper drone, the ministry said in a statement. It lasted well into morning, pitting French troops against the terrorists deep in a wooded area.
Although the French military did not identify the extremists, the armed group JNIM (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) has long been active in a region where communal violence often intersects with terrorist activities.
France has had some 4.500 military personnel in the region since launching its Operation Barkhane in August 2014. They are working alongside the G5 Sahel force, which is made up of the partner nations from Burkina-Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.
That partnership has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, with French President Emmanuel Macron insisting that he needs “clarity” from African partners on France’s role, following the deaths of 13 French soldiers last month in a helicopter accident.
Macron did not attend an emergency summit of the G5 leaders in Niamey last week, held after 70 soldiers were killed by terrorists in Niger. The French president plans a meeting with those leaders in January.
Image: French Ministry of Defense file