Nouakchott — French troops killed 19 Islamist militants Tuesday (December 10th) during an army operation in northern Mali, AFP reported.
"A French military operation is under way north of Timbuktu. French troops are facing a pretty determined group. At the moment, 19 members of this group have been killed," a Bamako-based French military source said.
"The French troops haven't reported any deaths or injuries. We are in control of the situation," the source added, without specifying which Islamist group the militants were part of.
The violence comes as Malians prepare to vote on Sunday in a second round of parliamentary polls.
According to terrorism expert Sidati Ould Cheikh, "Since the launch of Operation Serval, the armed groups have become weaker, but they are still active in the region. And for some time, they have been going increasingly on the offensive. Many attacks have been carried out over the past three months."
"These attacks have claimed the lives of several victims, both civilians and soldiers. And this is why the French have mounted a huge anti-jihadist operation involving more than 1,500 soldiers known as Hydra," Ould Cheikh added.
"And the head of state, François Hollande, recently said that terrorism is established in Mali, southern Libya, probably still in northern Niger and southern Algeria, and that it has not been defeated by the intervention in Mali," he noted.
Moustapha Ould Mohamed Lemine, an analyst and law professor, said that the French were "keeping up the pressure on the terrorist movements in Mali and this operation is similar to the one they carried out in the middle of November, which resulted in the deaths of several members of jihadist groups and the seizure of equipment".
The issue of instability and terrorism in the Sahel came under the spotlight during a recent session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
On that occasion, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan highlighted the importance of pooling efforts to tackle terrorism, saying that it "knows no borders, so it requires concerted action".
"Despite the victory of the West African troops with support from France over the Islamists in Mali, we are not yet done with terrorism in the region as the jihadists have retreated to various locations," Senegalese President Macky Sall said.
He added: "Even if the threat of terrorism has not been wiped out, with joint operations, we can resist this threat to security in Africa."
According to Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré, "the Sahel region has become a refuge for drug traffickers and terrorists whose presence poses a real threat to regional security."
Among the recommendations arising out of the Elysée summit on security in Africa held on December 6th-7th in Paris, French President François Hollande said that "Africa must safeguard its own security by putting in place a rapid intervention force. France has pledged to train 20,000 African soldiers each year."
In the final declaration, the heads of state and government said that they wished to "treat the issue of border areas and border security, especially in the Sahel-Sahara region, as a matter of priority".
"France will lend support to these efforts in countries which want it through projects aimed at strengthening security and defence forces, cross-border cooperation and the interoperability of African armed forces," they added.