Bamako - Mali's military government has received several fighter jets and helicopters from Russia, which has become a close and controversial ally in its fight against Islamist militants.
The aircraft were handed over during a ceremony at Bamako's airport, with Malian President Assimi Goita and Russian Ambassador Igor Gromyko present.
Photos of the aircraft were posted to the official presidential Twitter page, with Russian state media RIA saying the delivery consists of Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jets, L-39 Albatros jets and attack helicopters. Malian Defense Minister Sadio Camara said in a speech on Malian state TV channel ORTM that an even larger number of aircraft were delivered.
Here we are just showing a part of what was delivered, he says. The rest, of course, are being engaged in operations at the moment that this ceremony is being held.
Mali has been fighting an Islamist insurgency for the past decade, since Islamists took over northern Mali in 2012. Control of Malian territory was regained after France intervened in 2013, but attacks and fighting have continued in the years since, with 2022 already one of the deadliest years on record in the conflict.
In the most recent incident, Islamist fighters attacked a Malian army base in the northern town of Tessit on Sunday, with the army saying in a press release that 17 soldiers and four civilians were killed in the attack.
Violence has also increased in central and southern Mali. One-hundred thirty-two civilians were murdered in a massacre blamed on Islamist militants in June in the central Mopti region, and several attacks have occurred in Mali's southern regions in recent months, with Islamists attacking Mali's main military town, Kati, just 15 kilometers north of Bamako, in July.
The French army is in the final stages of withdrawing from Mali, after French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of forces in February, following increasing tensions with Mali's military government and concerns over Mali working with Russian mercenaries.
Mali's military government continually denied claims it works with mercenaries, saying it only works with Russian instructors.
Several governments have accused Mali of working with mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company. In March, Human Rights Watch released a report in which several residents of Moura attested to witnessing mercenaries committing extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses with the Malian army over a period of five days.
Mali also received two Russian helicopters in April, and four helicopters as well as weapons in September of last year.