BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — New fighting erupted between the Malian military and armed rebel groups in an area south of Kidal late Friday, with both sides claiming to control the town of Anefis as night fell.
The armed movements, who have long been fighting for an independent state called Azawad, said in a statement that they had shot down an unspecified aircraft along with six other drones it said belonged to the Russian private military contractor Wagner.
The Malian military, however, said that it had broken through the rebels’ defenses and had carried out “a very high death toll on the terrorist side” near Anefis, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the town of Kidal.
The violence is the latest in a string of increasing attacks by the rebels, known as the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (CSP-PSD).
Analysts say it signals a breakdown of a 2015 peace agreement signed between the government and ethnic Tuareg rebels who once drove security forces out of northern Mali as they sought to create the state of Azawad there.
The 2015 peace deal called for the ex-rebels to be integrated into the national military among other things. But there are now concerns that ex-rebels who had joined the army under the 2015 deal “have joined the ranks of the terrorists,” according to a letter signed by Malian Chief of Staff Gal. Oumar Diarra that was leaked on social media networks.
Mali’s democratically elected president was overthrown in a 2020 coup. Since taking power, Col. Assifmi Goita has distanced the West African country from its international partners who had long aided in the fight against Islamic extremists. Former colonizer France, which led a 2013 military intervention to oust jihadis from power, has since moved its forces outside Mali.
Earlier this year, the junta ousted the U.N. peacekeeping mission, which has been operating in the country for a decade. Since the peacekeepers completed the first phase of their withdrawal in August, attacks in northern Mali have more than doubled.