Jihadist attack on Mali military camp leaves 20 dead: army

There are fears that Mali is particularly exposed to a coronavirus outbreak (AFP Photo/AFP) (AFP/File)

Bamako (AFP) - Twenty members of the security forces were killed on Sunday in a major assault by suspected jihadists at a military camp in Mali near the border with Mauritania.

The attack on the Sokolo camp around dawn left "20 dead and five wounded" and "four dead on the enemy's side," the army said updating the toll late Sunday.

The victims were buried with military honours at Sokolo, the Malian armed forces said on Twitter.

Sokolo is the last town before the Mauritanian border, near a forest considered a base for groups linked to Al-Qaeda.

Malian officials blamed the attack on "terrorists", a term used for jihadist groups which have been operating in Mali for eight years, despite military interventions by the French, the UN and joint force of soldiers from five Sahel countries.

A local lawmaker said all those killed at Sokolo military camp were gendarmes, or paramilitary police officers.

"The terrorists arrived on motorcycles," said the official, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

Sokolo resident Baba Gakou told AFP: "There were more than 100 attackers.

"They arrived at five in the morning. They cut off any withdrawal by the gendarmes."

He added that the assailants left with all the weapons and vehicles at the camp.

"They picked up all their dead. They did not touch anyone in the village," he told AFP.

A local humanitarian source who managed to enter the camp after the suspected jihadists had left, described the scene as "complete chaos".

"It looked like the attackers knew what they were doing," the source said.

The armed forces tweet said troops were combing the area backed by a military aircraft following the assault.

Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted in the north in 2012 and has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives since.

The Bamako government announced Wednesday it would hold legislative elections in late March, after repeated postponements prompted by insecurity and political infighting.

Holding the elections was a key recommendation from crisis talks in December aimed at exploring non-military solutions to the worsening violence.

There are some 4,500 French troops in the Sahel region, plus a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, but still the conflict has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.