BAMAKO (Reuters) – Suspected jihadists killed five Malian soldiers on Wednesday in an ambush in the West African country’s volatile centre, the army said, the latest in a string of attacks targeting local security forces in the Sahel region.
The statement said the soldiers were travelling between the towns of Hombori and Boni, about 100 km north of the Burkina Faso border, when they fell into an ambush.
It came days after gunmen killed 24 soldiers in an attack on an army unit in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
“FAMA (Malian armed forces) deplores the killing of five people, which also destroyed military equipment,” the statement said. “Reinforcements have been sent back there.”
The remote, grassy borderlands where Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger meet has become a haven for militants and criminal outfits linked to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
Jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have exploited ethnic rivalries in Mali and its neighbours to boost recruitment and render swathes of territory ungovernable.
French forces intervened in Mali in 2013 to push back a jihadist advance from the desert north but the militants have since regrouped and expanded their presence.
Some 4,500 French troops remain based in the wider Sahel, which consists mostly of former French colonies, most of them in Mali. The United States also has hundreds of troops in the region.
But efforts by Western powers and their regional allies to contain Islamist violence are hampered by difficult terrain and an often uncooperative or frightened local population.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Cheick Modibo Diarra; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alison Williams