The French forces killed up to 33 militants in Mali on Saturday using attack helicopters, ground troops and a drone, near the border with Mauritania where a group linked to al Qaeda operates, French authorities announced.
The raid about 150 km northwest of Mopti in Mali targeted the same forest area where France wrongly claimed last year it had killed Amadou Koufa, one of the most senior militants being hunted by French forces in the Sahel.
A spokesman for the French army’s chief of staff declined to say at this stage whether Koufa was the target this time, Reuters reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced the operation in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan, describing it as a major success.
“This morning ... we were able to neutralize 33 terrorists, take one prisoner and free two Malian gendarmes who had been held hostage,” Macron said, a day after visiting French troops stationed in Ivory Coast.
The operation took place in a different part of Mali to where 13 French soldiers died last month in a helicopter crash while tracking a militant group suspected of being affiliated to ISIS.
In Saturday’s raid, soldiers aboard Tiger attack helicopters used a Reaper drone to guide them to the forest area where Koufa’s group Katiba Macina operates, French army command said.
According to Reuters, Koufa is one of the top deputies to Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Mali’s most prominent militant group, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which has repeatedly attacked soldiers and civilians in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso.
Meanwhile, the Malian authorities welcomed the success of the raid.
“Happy that the fight against terrorism is taking a more offensive turn,” said government spokesman Yaya Sangare in a message to Reuters.
“I salute this operation, which must continue.”