Families of Malian military hostages allegedly killed in French airstrike still seek answers (VIDEO)

The French government has never officially accepted responsibility for the deaths of 11 Malian soldiers in an October 2017 airstrike. Their distraught families, meanwhile, have yet to find closure or bury their dead.

Boubacar Kante was one of the soldiers kidnapped in northern Mali between July 2016 and March 2017. He was subsequently killed in an airstrike which targeted Islamist militants from Jamaah Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) on October 23 – less than a month after the terrorist group posted a video of the detainees. The French Foreign Ministry confirmed the airstrike, but denied any collateral damage, including civilians and hostages. It described such claims as "propaganda coming from an armed terrorist group."

Kante’s family, who are yet to receive a conclusive answer about his fate, shared their anguish with the Ruptly news agency.

"On July 17, 2016, he was taken prisoner in the Nampala attack. There were people dead, people wounded and people missing. Boubacar is one of the missing," Kante’s uncle told Ruptly. “France says no, it's not true. So who is right? Is it France that is there? Mali is not there. What can we say? Nothing."

"France says that at the time of the operations there were no hostages there, that is what I heard from RFI [Radio France International]. But afterwards, Boubacar’s supervisor phoned me to tell me that they have no information in relation to the situation. After checking, they found no clue as to whether Boubacar is dead or not. It was denied.”

Kante was one of the 11 detainees featured in a video posted by JNIM on October 1, 2017 in which each gave a short testimony on their rank, name, service number, and also the date and location of their capture. "We call on each and every one of the Malian people for help in order to bring us out of this crisis," one of the detainees said. Less than a month later, all of the military prisoners were reportedly killed.

"Only later, through the internet and radio, we saw that the Barkhane forces bombed them, and during the bombing, 11 soldiers were victims of the attack; again no other information. They came to tell us that everything is fine, and then no other news, we are waiting to receive any news regarding our son," Sanaba Sissoko, second wife of Boubacar's father, told Ruptly.

"One day they tell us that the hostages have been involved in the bombing and the next day the tell us otherwise. We are tired because we have not succeeded in seeing our son with our own eyes, to confirm that he is alive."

"This French raid was to neutralize a terrorist camp. We had identified, even before this operation, very accurately, on the basis of information, as we always do, the existence of a terrorist camp," Sylvie Goulard, France’s Minister of Defence said in an interview with RFI on November 15.

However, JNIM released a statement on November 1 in which it offered to provide the bodies of the victims as proof of a French cover up. The Malian government has blasted the French response and reluctance to accept culpability, as well as its failure to denounce reports that the Malian soldiers had defected.

"They were indeed hostages of terrorists and there should not be any ambiguity between our French friends and us. It is an unfortunate fact, which can occur in this type of operation. We must admit it and not look for other reasons that do not exist." Malian President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita said in an interview with the Jeunes Afrique magazine on December 3.

"At some point a specific media wanted to justify that the 11 Malian hostages that were at this site had joined the jihadi movement. We consider that to be an insult to the memory of these men that lost their lives in service of the nation," Mali's Defence Ministry spokesman Boubacar Diallo said Wednesday.

"But, from images that we received we recognised five of our soldiers that were taken hostage during terrorist attacks in Boulikessi and we understood that Mali had 11 hostages and there were 11 hostages found on this site, and all of them lost their lives during this operation," Diallo added.

Islamist militants seized northern Mali in 2012 and government forces have struggled to contain the insurrection ever since. In response, France and the G5 Sahel launched Operation Barkhane, deploying more than 3,000 French troops to the region which spans five former French colonies across the Sahel including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

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