Joint Malian-French operation kills 100 jihadists in January

December was one of the most violent months in the region in recent years
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REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER  -   French soldiers patrol in a BvS10 all-terrain armoured vehicle in the Gourma region during Operation Barkhane in Ndaki, Mali

A hundred suspected jihadists have been killed in the course of three weeks (2 to 20 January) during a joint operation between the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) and French soldiers of the Barkhane force, deployed in several Sahel countries on anti-terrorist missions.

The FAMA published a communiqué explaining that the joint operation, called "Eclipse", was aimed at "driving the enemy out of their hideouts", specifically those located in the area between the towns of Serma, Boulkessi, Foulssaret and Doni, near the Malian border with Burkina Faso.

The soldiers also captured twenty jihadists alive and seized "war material" and a large number of motorbikes, the jihadists' preferred means of transport for launching surprise attacks and fleeing with relative ease.

The operation required two months of preparation to allow for greater rapport between the Malian and French military before they moved together into the area of operations, located in the Gourma region, where attacks have been concentrated in recent months.

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AFP/ PASCAL GUYOT - A Eurocopter Tiger helicopter (Eurocopter EC665 Tiger) lands at Mopti airport in Sevare

The death toll of around 100 does not include those killed last Sunday in a double jihadist attack on two barracks, one belonging to the FAMA and the other to the G5-Sahel force, the group of five Sahel countries allied against jihadist terrorism, which left six soldiers dead, as well as 30 jihadists.

That double attack was aborted precisely thanks to the intervention of Barkhane, who used Tiger attack helicopters against the attackers until they fled.

FAMA's latest communiqué thus highlights the decisive French cooperation over the past month and seems to respond to the increasingly open criticism, in Mali and in France, of French involvement in a foreign war, widely perceived as a colonialist project that is doing little to reduce the levels of violence.

Several jihadist groups, loyal to Al Qaeda or the self-styled Islamic State, but also independent, are relentlessly fighting the states of Mali, Niger, Burkina and Nigeria, having made the Sahel their main area of activity in the last two years.