The killing of scores of jihadists in a joint Franco-Malian offensive this month signals an operational success for international forces fighting Islamist extremists in the Sahel, says Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24's expert on jihadi networks, though warning that civilian casualties have spiralled amid escalating fighting.
Mali’s army and French forces in the West African nation have killed at least 100 jihadist fighters in a joint operation carried out from January 2 to 20, which also led to the seizure of weapons and other materials.
The operation, which follows the killing of five French soldiers in Mali, comes at a critical time for the French-led international force fighting Islamist extremists in the arid Sahel region, south of the Sahara.
"As the French army's chief of staff put it, they needed some wins before the next [Sahel] summit," said Nasr, referring to a forthcoming summit in Chad, at which French President Emmanuel Macron will join regional heads of state.
Militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group have strengthened their foothold across the region, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
To counter the worsening insurgencies, France boosted its troop numbers to more than 5,000 soldiers last year. It is now mulling a possible withdrawal of some of those troops following successes against Islamist militants and the arrival of more European forces.
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