On Sunday, the French forces in Mali targeted and killed what they said were a large number of Islamic insurgents on motorcycles in the villages of Bounti and Kikara. However, according to reports filtering out of the country, the dead were civilians attending a wedding.
“Those who were killed were civilians. Whether there were jihadists around at the moment of the raid or not, I don’t know,” Hamadoun Dicko, the president of the Jeunesse Tabital Pulaaku, an organized group for Fulani people said to Reuters.
The group posted the names of 19 people who were killed or injured in the airstrike stating that one of them was the groom’s father.
Local aid workers also told news media outlets that the airstrike mistakenly targeted a civilian wedding party rather than an insurgent gathering.
At a time where there is a swelling of anti-French sentiment in Mali, this latest incident has further fanned flames.
An ambulance that was transporting people, wounded in the strike, to the hospital, was attacked by armed men, according to Doctors Without Borders, a charity medical group. One man in his 60s was reportedly killed after being tied up and assaulted.
Both the French military and the Malian government deny that the airstrike killed civilians.
Mali’s defense ministry said the airstrike was a joint operation with French forces that killed only Islamist insurgents.
The French military reported that they had kept about 40 insurgents under surveillance with an MQ-9 Reaper drone for over an hour and a half. It added that the strike was carried out over half a mile from the nearest buildings in a lightly wooded area on the edge of Bounti. French military officials said that the identities of the insurgents were confirmed by the drone’s cameras long before the airstrike was conducted and afterward in a subsequent investigation.
“No collateral damage, no sign of a festive gathering or a marriage,” the French military said in a released statement, adding that there was no sign of women or children in the target area.
The French military has lost five troops in targeted IED explosions in the past few days in Mali. The French currently have about 5,100 troops in the country as part of Operation Barkhane the counter-insurgency force operating in the Sahel.