French, Malian troops kill dozens of insurgents in gun battle

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Mali militia said it had obtained a sport utility vehicle abandoned by US special forces in neighboring Niger during a deadly ambush last October.

PARIS - French and Malian troops killed about 30 Islamist insurgents during a gunbattle in a region near the border with Niger where Islamic State is known to be active, the French army said on Thursday.

West Africa&39;s arid Sahel region has seen a rise in violence by militant groups, some with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, that is drawing an increasingly aggressive response from countries including France and the United States.

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It was a Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate, Jama&39;a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), that claimed responsibility for a March 2 assault on the French Embassy and army headquarters in Burkina Faso&39;s capital that killed eight people.

Colonel Patrik Steiger said soldiers from France&39;s Barkhane force and Malian troops were on a reconnaissance mission 90 km south of Menaka on Sunday when they encountered several dozen Islamist fighters, some on motorcycles.

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A number of Malian soldiers died in the ensuing gunbattle, Steiger said, without giving more details. No French troops were hurt.

Five countries - Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania - backed by France, launched a new task force in 2017 to tackle Islamist militants in the region, to which international donors have committed half-a-billion dollars.