An investigation conducted by the United Nations has found that at least 19 civilians were killed in a French airstrike in central Mali in January.
France’s Defense Ministry claimed its troops had targeted a group of extremists and that it had conducted extensive surveillance to ensure that women and children were not present before the attack.
But Bounti villagers have refuted the ministry’s statement, saying that men — young and elderly — had assembled for a wedding, according to The Washington Post.
“The group affected by the strike was overwhelmingly composed of civilians who are persons protected against attacks under international humanitarian law,” the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, a peacekeeping force known as MINUSMA, wrote in its report. “This strike raises significant concerns about respect for the principles of the conduct of hostilities.”
The French Defense Ministry refutes the finding: “The Ministry of the Armed Forces maintains and reaffirms with force that on January 3, the French armed forces carried out an air strike targeting an armed terrorist group identified as such.”
Last week, France was accused of killing six civilians in a separate airstrike.
Mohamed Assaleh Ahmad, mayor of the nearby village of Talataye, told Reuters that he knew six male civilians from Talataye aged between 15 and 20 who were killed in the strike. Ahmad says they were out hunting birds and had a single rifle between them.
“I know all these young people. Some are from my family,” he said. “We have seen these airstrikes in the past here. We have never said anything, but this time, it is 100% an error.”
In August 2020, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was ousted in a coup d’etat. France’s deployed 5,100 troops to help fight against the extremist attacks but refused to withdraw its soldiers once the coup ended.
Operation Barkhane is France’s largest overseas operation, with a budget of nearly €600m per year. The operation handles combat patrols alongside Malian forces and partner militias and intelligence gathering and training to local development activities.
“Operation Barkhane … continues,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted at the time.
But many believe France’s exit from Mali’s affairs is long overdue.