Eight Malian soldiers were killed, 14 others wounded and four missing after a clash with fighters in the northeastern part of the West African nation, the Defense Ministry said.
The ministry said Friday night that columns of fighters on motorcycles blocked the unit, but the army, supported by the air force, killed 57 of them in the tri-border area near Burkina Faso.
The troops were targeted by “unidentified armed men” in the Archam area, near the border with Burkina Faso and troubled Niger, the statement said.
Some 40 civilians have been killed this week in the area, where rival armed groups, including the EIIL, operate, residents told the AFP news agency.
The civilians were believed to be loyal to the rival armed groups, according to local sources.
Mali is at the epicenter of a Sahel-wide conflict that has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians and displaced some two million people.
Rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda and EIIL control swaths of territory in the porous border areas of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
The latest attack comes as Mali’s ruling military government on Friday called on France to withdraw its troops from its territory “without delay,” calling into question Paris’ plan for a four- to six-month departure and underscoring the breakdown in relations between Paris and its former colony.
Mali has struggled to regain stability since 2012, when Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned armed groups seized the northern two-thirds of the country.
Forces from former colonial power France intervened and helped defeat the armed groups in 2013, but the fighters regrouped in the desert and began conducting regular attacks on the army and civilians. They have since exported their methods to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, where violence has soared in recent years, leaving a severe humanitarian crisis in its wake.
France has about 4,300 troops in the Sahel region, including 2,400 in Mali. Its so-called Barkhane force is also present in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
A statement signed Thursday by France and its African and European allies said the “multiple obstructions” by Mali’s ruling military government meant conditions were no longer right to operate in the country.
France and 15 European countries condemned in December the decision by Malian authorities to allow the deployment of personnel from the Russian group Wagner, which has reportedly begun operating in the country and is accused of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.
The decision to withdraw applies to both Barkhane and the European Takuba force that France had tried to forge with its allies.