Military sources said earlier this week that an attack by suspected terror groups on an army camp on Sunday in central Mali killed 23 soldiers thus raising an initial death toll of 21.
Malian armed forces reportedly stated that a local politician and military sources had given the initial death toll after a dawn attack officially blamed on "terrorist groups under the command of Ba Ag Moussa, a deserter army colonel.
Moussa is considered close to be a close ally to Tuareg militant Iyad Ag Ghaly, leader of the Sahel region's main militant alliance linked to Al Qaeda.
The updated toll came as the defence minister and top army brass visited the region.
The Dioura camp is midway between regional capital Mopti and the Mauritanian border in an area that has repeatedly been hit by attacks by a group linked to extremist preacher Amadou Koufa. Last year, Paris and Bamako reported that Koufa had been killed following a French military operation in central Mali, but he recently resurfaced in a video with French officials admitting last week it was "likely" he was still alive.
Tuareg-linked Moussa – also known as Bamoussa – had initially deserted the army in 2006 during a rebellion chiefly by soldiers hailing from the north-eastern city of Kidal.
Terrorism and Rebellion
Mousa alias Bamoussa returned to the military briefly only to desert again in 2012 during a Tuareg-led rebellion, which included fighters who had returned from Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
Once a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali has in recent years been plagued by a coup, civil war, and terrorism.
Groups linked to Al Qaeda took control of the desert's north in early 2012 but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
In June 2015, Mali's government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups but many militants remain active, and large tracts of the country remain lawless.
Despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, a strong French military contingent and the creation of a five-nation military force in the region, terror-related violence has not abated.
Photo Credit: Malian troops stand guard prior to the visit of the French Prime Minister at the Operation Barkane military French base in Gao, Mali/ February 24, 2019. (AFP)