France says Malian and French troops killed at least 15 Islamist militants on Thursday, February 21, during fighting to retake government buildings in the northern Mali town of Gao.
The Defense Ministry says two French soldiers and four Malian troops were wounded in the fighting, which was centered on the town hall and mayor’s residence that had been occupied by the militants.
The militants are part of the Islamist group known as MUJAO, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The group was one of three that ruled northern Mali for about 10 months before French and Malian army forces retook control of the region last month.
A Malian Defense Ministry spokesman told VOA that while Gao has been liberated, “pockets of insecurity” remained in the city.
In another incident, a car bomb exploded Thursday near a military base in the northern city of Kidal, killing the bomber and one civilian. The base was being used by French and Chadian forces.
A string of attacks in the north has raised concern that Islamist groups will carry out guerrilla-style warfare with an eye on retaking control of the region once French troops depart.
In January, French troops entered Mali, a former French colony, at the request of the Bamako government to help drive back Islamist militants who had seized northern cities and were moving toward the capital.
France has said it plans to begin withdrawing its forces and hand over military operations to the Malian army and an African force. French officials have also urged the United Nations to establish a peacekeeping mission in Mali.