Bamako - Mali's military government Wednesday confirmed Islamist militants killed 42 of its troops last weekend in a sophisticated drone attack and announced three days of national mourning. The announcement came the same day Mali's military leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about support from the Kremlin.
Three days of mourning were declared on state TV station ORTM, in an announcement read by presenter Bemba Siby.
'Three days of national mourning, starting Thursday at midnight, is declared throughout the national territory in tribute to the civilian and military victims of the terrorist attack perpetrated in Tessit,' Siby says.
After an initial death toll of 17 soldiers and four civilians announced on Monday, the government updated the numbers to include a total of 42 soldiers killed during the attack in the northern Mali town of Tessit in a statement Wednesday.
The statement also said the Sunday attack included the use of drones and explosives, and that the perpetrators carried out "clandestine overflight operations," and have "benefited from major support, including external expertise."
Also on Wednesday, the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed possible deliveries of food and fuel to Mali and continuation of Russia-Mali cooperation in a phone call with Malian interim President Assimi Goita.
Mali received several military aircraft from Russia on Tuesday in a ceremony at Bamako's airport.
Mali has been fighting an Islamist insurgency for the past decade, with major support from the French army, which intervened in 2013 following the takeover of northern Mali by Islamists. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of French forces from Mali in February after increasing tensions between France and Mali's military government, which took power in a 2020 coup, and concerns over Mali working with Russian mercenaries.
Mali has continually denied working with Russian mercenaries, claiming to only work with official Russian instructors. Human Rights Watch and several international media outlets have since reported on allegations of human rights abuses carried out by the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization with links to the Kremlin.
Insecurity in Mali has risen in recent months, with several Islamist attacks carried out against civilian and military targets throughout the country and an Islamist attack on the country's main military base in Kati, just 15 kilometers from Bamako, in July.