By Sam Ball
A “large-scale” military operation against jihadist forces in Mali has been launched by French, Malian and UN troops, a spokesman for the French armed forces said Thursday.
The operation aims to “avoid [a] resurgence” of “terrorist organisations” in the country, Colonel Gilles Jaron told reporters.
He said “several hundred” French soldiers were involved in the operation alongside Malian soldiers and members of the UN’s MINUSMA mission, adding: “It is the first time we have seen forces of significant size working together.”
France launched a military intervention in its former colony in January this year after Islamist forces exploited a rebellion by Tuareg separatists to seize control of the north of the country.
After successfully ousting the Islamists, France handed over control of the peacekeeping mission to MINUSMA, though the country still has more than 3,000 troops stationed in Mali.
However, recent months have seen a rise in violence in the country in the form of both attacks by Islamic extremists as well as skirmishes between security forces and Tuareg separatists.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed two Chadian troops from the UN mission and injured six other peacekeepers in an assault on a checkpoint at the entry to the northern town of Tessalit.
Colonel Gilles, however, stressed that such incidents had remained relatively small in scale and had been perpetrated largely by groups wanting to “dampen spirits without necessarily having the ability to engage in combat in the long term”.
“We know that not all of these terrorist groups […] in Mali were eliminated,” he said. “And at times, they may resurface as we move toward legislative elections,” he said.
Mali is due to hold its first legislative elections since the Tuareg rebellion on November 24.
Earlier this month, the UN appealed for more troops and helicopters to be sent to Mali to help it with its peacekeeping operation. The UN Security Council originally mandated a 12,600-strong force in the country, but currently has just 5,200 troops on the ground.