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French soldiers patrolling central Mali wounded in suicide car bomb blast

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A suicide car bomber attacked French troops patrolling in central Mali on Monday, according to France’s military, wounding soldiers and civilians in the war-torn West African country.

The French soldiers, who were travelling in a vehicle, were on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Gossi to secure the area around a nearby forward operating base.

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“French soldiers and Malian civilians were injured by the explosion of the suicide vehicle,” the French military said in a statement, without specifying the number of wounded.

A Malian military official and a elected representative in central Mali, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said that three French soldiers had been injured.

AFP was unable to independently confirm the number of wounded.

The French military also said that it sent “alert units” including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops.

Mali has been struggling to contain a brutal militant insurgency which first emerged in the north in 2012, before spreading to the center of the country and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back the militants, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region.

Monday’s attack comes after French President Emmanuel Macron announced this month that he would wind down the Barkhane force, however.

France plans to refocus its energies on strengthening an international task force of special forces in Mali, known as Takuba.