At least four soldiers, two civilians and five assailants were killed Sunday in an attack, attributed to jihadist groups, in a locality where a military camp is located, Tessit, the Malian army said.
The toll could be “much higher” for the Malian army. The two civilians are local officials, relatives of the victims told AFP. The Tessit sector, located on the Malian side of the tri-border area, in a vast rural region not controlled by the state, is frequently the scene of clashes and attacks.
Armed groups affiliated with al-Qa’ida, under the umbrella of the Groupe de soutien à l’Islam et aux musulmans (GSIM, JNIM in Arabic), are fighting the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group, affiliated with the EI organisation. The jihadists are seeking control of this strategic and gold-rich area.
The Malian army, based in a military camp next to the town of Tessit, has also often been attacked in this region. In this area, sometimes called the “Malian Gourma”, there are also peacekeepers from the UN mission in Mali and, until a few months ago, French soldiers from Operation Barkhane.
As for civilians, as elsewhere in Mali, they are caught in the crossfire between these actors in the conflict and accused of being allied with one when they are not with the other. The area’s inhabitants have fled in their thousands, notably to the nearby large town of Gao, some 150 km away.
The Tessit region, like the whole of the so-called three-border zone, is even more isolated during the rainy season when heavy rainfall prevents passage.
Mali has been in turmoil since 2012. The jihadist spread, initially confined to the north of the country, has spread to central and southern Mali, as well as to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.