About a dozen military vehicles were ambushed on Sunday at Bouka Were, around 60 miles from the border with Mauritania, the army said. Unnamed Malian military sources confirmed that the ambush on the military convoy in central Mali left 24 soldiers dead and a number missing. Jihadists aligned with al-Qaeda perpetrated the attack.
According to reports by local media, there were 64 soldiers in the convoy. The army confirmed that 20 were dead and eight were later rescued, but that only 20 of the troops were present for duty after the fighting took place. The source stated that a search was underway to find the remainder of the troops.
Those numbers were confirmed later on Monday when Colonel Diarran Kone, a Malian army spokesman told Reuters news that, “Twenty-four Mali army personnel died, eight survivors have been found.”
This is the latest in a string of jihadist attacks. Mali and its neighboring countries in the Sahel region have been plagued by violent jihadism for the past eight years. Islamic jihadists began a revolt in northern Mali in 2012, which has since spread to Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania despite the presence of thousands of French and U.N. troops.
In related news, on Saturday, two Egyptian soldiers with the United Nations peacekeeping force MINUSMA were killed when their convoy came under attack in northwestern Mali, the U.N. said in a press release.
The French-led coalition has been fighting an uphill battle against the Islamist insurgency, which is comprised of armed groups that have linked themselves to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. During just the past year the insurgency has claimed four thousand military and civilian lives and forced hundreds of thousands to be displaced from their homes.
The terrorist groups have played upon and benefited by ethnic tensions, poverty, local grievances over scant resources, and the absence of government control in the sparsely populated areas.
An ethnic Fulani group, linked to al-Qaeda, called Katiba Macina and led by a man named Amadou Koufa is recruiting among the Fulani herding community, which has long been at odds with the Bambara and Dogon farming groups.
The Muslim Fulani have been losing their traditional grazing lands due to climate change and have been taking over Bambara and Dogon lands by force. They’ve also targeted the Christian segment of these Bambara and Dogon farming groups for annihilation. These groups, in turn, have created their own “self-defense” organizations, which have targeted Fulani. This only exacerbates the situation.
The violence forced earlier this month, thousands into the streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, to protest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and demand his resignation. He has been in power since 2013. The protesters condemned what they described as the government’s mishandling of the many crises plaguing the country.
President Keita, reached out to the protesting coalition and to Mahmoud Dicko, the cleric behind the protests, saying, “My door is open and my hand always extended.”
A few months ago, Keita said that he was seeking a dialogue with rebel leaders. It is doubtful that any al-Qaeda or Islamic State leaders would ever choose to meet with him. Meanwhile, the violence in Mali has increased to a level that is approaching a total loss of governmental control.