Mali: At least 20 dead after a French air strike

According to the French army, a number of jihadists were killed in an air strike in Mali. A spokesman told the AFP news agency that when French fighter jets were deployed in the center of the West African country, “several dozen” members of an Islamist group were “neutralized” on Sunday.

Meanwhile, residents of the village of Bounti reported a helicopter attack on a wedding party, in which around 20 wedding guests were killed. The Reuters news agency also reported, citing a local source, that the attack took place during the wedding ceremony. The air attack is said to have targeted terrorists on motorcycles who were in the vicinity. Civilians were also hit.

French army claims to have prepared the attack “particularly strictly”

“The reports in connection with a wedding do not correspond to our observations,” says the French army. The attack was prepared “particularly strictly” and the “armed terrorist group” fully identified. The jihadists were observed for several days before the air strikes, and a “suspicious group of people” was discovered.

The Malian media had been speculating about the air strikes since Sunday. Residents of the village of Bounti, about 600 kilometers from the capital Bamako, reported that the attack had caused panic in a group of wedding guests.

The Tabital Pulakuu association of the Fulani ethnic group gave the number of civilians killed as “at least 20” and another 27 people were missing. A spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (Minusma) said the blue helmets were not involved in the incidents in Bounti.

Independent verification is extremely difficult

It was unclear whether the reports from the French army and the villagers were possibly based on two separate incidents. Independent verification of the reports is extremely difficult as the affected area is partially controlled by jihadists.

As part of its Barkhane anti-terror mission, France is deployed with around 5,100 soldiers in the Sahel zone. The Mopti region, in which the town of Bounti is also located, was the epicenter of jihadist uprisings in 2012, which have also spread to the neighboring countries of Burkina Faso and Niger. So far, thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee.

The French government recently announced that it would “very likely” reduce troop levels in the Sahel region. This was justified with “important military successes” last year.

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