On Thursday, French military forces conducted an airstrike targeting a group of Islamic militants 37 miles north of Deliman. 

“On 25 March 2021, in the late morning, the Barkhane force carried out a strike neutralizing an armed terrorist group 60 km [37 miles] north of In Deliman,” the French military said in a statement Thursday night.

“This strike was ordered after a phase of surveillance and identification permitting the characterization of the presence of an armed terrorist group,” French military officials added.

However, several Malian officials have claimed that the airstrike did not target and kill terrorists but six civilian men aged 15-20, who were out hunting birds with only one weapon between them.

This is the second time since January that the French have been accused of killing civilians in an airstrike. In the earlier incident, an airstrike near the village of Bounti hit a wedding party attended by civilians, according to local residents. The French military denies that saying the strike killed about 30 Islamist fighters. The UN is investigating January’s incident. 

Regarding Thursday’s airstrike, the mayor of the nearby village of Talataye, Mohamed Assaleh Ahmad, said via telephone to Reuters, “I know all these young people. Some are from my family.” He added that “We have seen these airstrikes in the past here. We have never said anything, but this time, it is 100 percent an error.”

A former member of the Mali parliament, Souleymane Ag Almahmoud, also said that the airstrike killed civilians.

To try and root out the Islamic insurgency that’s gripping the region, the French created Operation Barkhane in 2014. The operation, which started in Mali, has extended to the other countries of the Sahel.

The five countries of Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso make up the G5 Sahel security alliance whose aim is to counter the insurgency.

The fight in the Sahel, a semi-arid region south of the Sahara,l began in Mali, a former French colony when Taureg separatists started a revolt against the government. That revolt was quickly hijacked by Islamic terrorist organizations, principally al-Qaeda, but ISIS has also been involved.

Initially, the French intervention was looked at favorably by Malian civilians as well as the French population. Nevertheless, now after several years, the intervention is being questioned with France’s population increasingly calling for the military to be withdrawn. But after a summit meeting last month, French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out an immediate reduction in troops. 

Now, with two allegations of targeting civilians in airstrikes, the calls for France to leave will only grow louder.

The French, however, have gotten more European participation in their efforts especially regarding Special Operations Task Force – Takuba. The task force has been working by, with, and through G5 troops since August of last year.