Five soldiers were killed today in northern Mali, where a surge in violence has prompted calls for the UN to create a new anti-jihadist force for the region. Eight soldiers were wounded and nine vehicles were destroyed in the attack on the camp at Bintagoungou at about 5:00 am (local time), an army statement said. Local sources told AFP earlier today that jihadists led the assault, which took place around 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Timbuktu, and has not been claimed. "All the camp's military material was ransacked," a local official told AFP. A resident earlier said that there were "no Malian soldiers to be seen - the camp has been laid waste.
The jihadists left with military hostages." Northern Mali continues to fall prey to jihadist attacks. Four people were killed in an assault on UN peacekeepers near their base in Kidal earlier this month. The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, also known as Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen in Arabic, a fusion of three jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links formed in March, claimed that attack. Led by the Malian jihadist Iyad Ag Ghaly, a former leader of the Ansar Dine Islamists, the group has claimed multiple attacks on domestic and foreign forces since its formation, notably the 12,000-member MINUSMA UN force. MINUSMA began operations in 2013, providing security to and assisting Malian troops in a region which fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012. Although a French-led military intervention the following year drove the groups out of key towns, they have since spread further south in the troubled West African nation. The unrest has continued despite a 2015 peace deal between the government and Tuareg-led rebels offering partial autonomy to the north.