Militants deemed jihadis by the Malian government have attacked armed forces on patrol duty. It was the second mass attack this month in the country, which has witnessed a surge in violence.
An attack on Malian forces by militants in the northeast of the country has left at least 24 soldiers dead, officials said in a statement on Monday.
The soldiers came under fire while on patrol in a joint operation with forces from Niger in Tabankort, in the Gao region close to the border to Niger.
"During this attack, Malian forces suffered 24 deaths, 29 wounded as well as equipment damage. On the enemy's side, 17 were killed and a certain number captured," army spokesman Diarran Kone confirmed.
Malian officials did not say what group the militants belonged to, referring to them only as "terrorists" or "jihadists."
Malian forces arrested around 100 people and confiscated about 70 motorcycles after the attack. The prisoners are reportedly in the hands of the Nigerien army.
Spike in violence
Violence in the West African country has surged since early November, when around 53 soldiers and one civilian were killed in an attack on a military post.
Tibor Nagy, the US top diplomat for Africa last week said, "I call it cancer, a cancer that started in Mali and now is infecting the region."
Mali and Niger form part of the G5 alliance, a joint operation with Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania which aims to fight terrorism and track terror suspects in the Sahel region.
Terror groups with links to al-Qaida and the "Islamic State" group have their stronghold in Mali, with some already successfully expanded across the Sahel, causing chaos in parts of Niger and Burkina Faso.
Northern Mali was captured by jihadis in 2012 before a French-led military intervention ousted the militants. Since then, however, neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, including the border regions of Mali, have become central points of fighting with jihadis.
mvb, kmm/ng (AFP, dpa, Reuters)