France has announced the death of a top jihadist leader in Mali, as it continues to push for European support in fighting the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly told the AFP news agency that French troops killed Ali Maychou, a Moroccan, and co-founder of Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), or the Group to Support Islam and Muslims.
He was "the second most-wanted terrorist in the Sahel, including by the Americans", after JNIM's number one Iyad Ag Ghaly, she said, on board a French government plane, returning from an official visit to the region.
The group has claimed responsibility for the biggest attacks in the Sahel since its official launch in 2017. It is made up of several jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Maychou was killed during the night of 8-9 October, with the help of Malian troops and US support, Parly said.
He joined AQIM in 2012 before co-founding JNIM with Ghaly and expanding it in the Sahel.
France seeking support in Mali
France's Barkhane force, with 4,500-troops, has been in the Sahel since 2014, supporting the Malian government, along with Mali's African neighbours and 13,000 United Nations peacekeepers, to contain the Islamist insurgency. But continued deadly assaults have shown the fragility of the region.
In the latest attack claimed by militants allied with the Islamic State armed group, on Friday, gunmen shot dead 49 Malian troops at an army base near the border with Niger. Over the weekend, two Malian soldiers and a French soldier were killed.
Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said Friday's attack shows the help of foreign forces is "necessary more than ever".
France has been trying to convince European partners to boost military assistance, and Parly said on Tuesday in Mali that a decision was imminent.
"By 2020, special forces from European countries will be deployed in Mali alongside the French special forces to pass on exceptional know-how" to Mali's army, she said during a visit to the northern city of Gao.
She added that around a dozen countries had been approached to join the unit -- to be named "Takuba", which means "sabre" in the Tuareg language/
Participation is conditional on votes in national parliaments but Parly said she was "optimistic".