A "terrorist attack" on a military post in strife-torn northeastern Mali has left 50 soldiers dead, the army said Saturday, revising downward an earlier death toll. But the attack Friday at Indelimane, in the Menaka region, close to the border with Niger, was still one of the deadliest strikes against Mali's military in a region wracked by Islamist violence.
The Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) "have recorded 50 dead, three wounded and material damage, and some 20 survivors have been recovered", it said on its Facebook page on Saturday. The situation was now under control and soldiers were sweeping the area, it added.
The government on Friday had said 53 people died in what it described as a "terrorist attack". IS terrorist group claimed responsibility. An army officer said troops arrived at the outpost around 5:00 pm on Friday and "took back control of our positions.
"The terrorists carried out a surprise attack at lunchtime. Army vehicles were destroyed, others taken away," he told AFP. The army and the government announced Friday that reinforcements had been sent to the area.
The attacks comes a month after two jihadist assaults killed 40 soldiers near the border with Burkina Faso. Several sources have said the real death toll was higher. MINUSMA, the UN mission in Mali, condemned the attack in a statement Saturday, and said its peacekeepers were helping Malian troops secure the region.
"This bloodshed that Mali has been living through cannot go on," imam Mahamound Dicko, an influential religious leader in Mali, said Saturday. "Do you want us to resign ourselves to this suffering? We can resist," he added.
Rights activist Alioune Tine, from Mali's western neighbour Senegal, called for action across Africa to tackle the threat. "If Africa does not mobilise for Mali and Burkina (Faso), it won't be spared the bushfire that is quickly catching West Africa's coastal countries, the next chosen targets" of the jihadists, he said.
It is not just Mali's army that has been struggling in the face of the jihadist revolt. The violence has also spilled over into Burkina Faso and Niger where extremists have exploited existing inter-communal strife, leaving hundreds dead.
In Mali, the attacks have spread from the arid north to its centre, an ethnically mixed and volatile region. The recent assaults are a humiliation for the so-called G5 Sahel force -- a much-trumpeted initiative under which five countries created a joint 5,000-man anti-terror force -- and for France, which is committed to shoring up the fragile region.
Northern Mali came under the control of Al-Qaeda linked jihadists after Mali's army failed to quash a rebellion there in 2012. A French-led military campaign was launched against the jihadists, pushing them back a year later. But the jihadists have regrouped and widened their hit-and-run raids and landmine attacks to central and southern Mali.