Stoke White Investigations has examined the reported killing of civilians in a French air strike on a wedding party in Mail in January 2021. The following is adapted from the report’s Executive Summary. The full report can be viewed here.
On 3 January 2021, France undertook 3 airstrikes as part of its Operation Barkhane mission in Bounti, central Mali. France claimed it had attacked an armed “terrorist group”, but locals reported that a wedding party had been attacked. A subsequent UN report into the strikes – the first investigating France’s military activities in Mali – concluded that a wedding was indeed taking place, and that 19 civilians had been killed.
What exactly happened on the Sunday afternoon is disputed by the various parties of this civilian casualty allegation, but by the evening of the attack, a local social organisation, the AES Corporation, had already notified its members that a wedding was attacked outside Bounti, killing civilians. Two days later, French forces told the AFP that its military aircrafts had “neutralised” dozens of fighters in central Mali and that reports of an attack on a wedding “do not match the observations that were made”.
French Armed Forces reported on January 7 that they had targeted members of Katiba Serma, an armed group, loosely connected with Al-Qaeda after they had conducted a multi-day intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission in Douentza, in central Mali’s Mopti region. As part of this, a French Reaper drone had been conducting an ISR mission for one hour when it decided to follow a motorcycle carrying two individuals north of the “NR16” highway. The motorcycle joined approximately “40 adult men in an isolated area”, one kilometre north of the village of Bounti, in the region of Douentza. The real-time intelligence of the drone had apparently given the French Armed Forces the confidence that it located members of the Katiba Serma. Read more