A large surprise attack by about 100 Islamic jihadists, driving pickup trucks (technicals) and motorcycles, on a Mali military base, resulted in the deaths of 33 soldiers and the wounding of 14 others. Several other troops are missing. 

The Malian military claims to have killed 20 insurgents.

The jihadist attack took place on Monday in the town of Tessit, located 37 miles southeast of Ansongo, in the violent “Tri-Border Region” of Mali’s border with Burkina Faso and Niger. The area around the three borders has seen the most violence in the troubled Sahel region. 

No group has yet acknowledged the attack. Yet, insurgents aligned with both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) are very active in the region. 

Meanwhile, across the border from Mali in Niger, gunmen killed 58 civilians who were returning from a marketplace near the Malian border. 

The UN condemned this latest attack on the Malian armed forces, stating that all political and some non-political armed actors need to “recommit” to peace for the sake of Mali’s people.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said on Wednesday that the violence was likely due to a “lack of political movement.” He added, in reference to the recent establishment of an interim government following the August overthrow of President Keita by the Malian military, that the UN is working with national and international partners “to ensure a smooth transition.” 

“The security situation is not going in the right direction,” Dujarric said.

Mali was thrown into a violent uprising when Taureg separatists revolted against the Malian government in 2012. That uprising was quickly hijacked by an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). France came to the aid of its former colony in 2013 and in an initial military operation, pushed the insurgents nearly completely out of the country and towards the north.

Nevertheless, the insurgents, regrouped, reorganized, and began a guerrilla war, attacking towns and bases where government presence is very limited. Soon, they once again began to exert influence over a large area of the country. The insurgents took advantage of the sparsely controlled border region, crossing from one country to another with impunity.

In 2014, the establishment of G5 Sahel, comprising Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger was an additional step in stabilizing the military situation. The G5 Sahel’s mission is to push the insurgents from al-Qaeda and the jihadist Islamic State in the Greater Sahara group (EIGS) out of the region.

The French currently have about 5,100 troops in the country. They have created the Special Operations Taskforce Takuba that will train troops of the G5. Several EU countries are currently participating in Takuba working by, with, and through the host nation forces. U.S. involvement in the region consists of aerial intelligence gathering with drones in support of French military objectives. 

Nonetheless, support for the military operation in France is waning. Yet, last month, despite rumors to the contrary, French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out a hasty withdrawal from Mali stating that a rushed exit would be a mistake.

Mali’s interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane recently created a group to open talks with Islamist militants, seeking a political solution to the violence plaguing the nation. “Dialogue is not an exclusive solution, but rather an additional means of bringing back into the bosom of the Republic those who left it, often for existential reasons far removed from any fanaticism,” he said.

According to the UN, the Sahel is one of the world’s poorest regions and recently the overall humanitarian situation there has deteriorated sharply because of the increased violence. 

The UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said that more than 13 million people require assistance and, according to UNICEF figures, more than half are children.