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France's Shadow War in Mali: Airstrikes at the Bounti Wedding

Stoke White Investigations (SWI-unit) presents credible human rights intelligence on France’s drone-instigated airstrikes at the Bounti wedding in Mali that killed 19 civilians on 3 January, 2021.



On 3 January, 2021 France executed airstrike as part of its Operation Barkhane mission in central Mali, Bounti. France claimed it attacked an armed “terrorist group”, but locals say it was a wedding party. A UN (MINUSMA) report on the attack - a first for investigating France’s military activities in Mali - concluded that a wedding was attacked with 19 civilians killed. But France dismissed the findings. What happened on the Sunday afternoon is disputed by all parties of this civilian casualty allegation.


Stoke White Investigations (SWI-unit) presents further insight on the contested civilian casualty allegation that occurred under the pretext of counter-terrorism. This report focuses on unearthing relevant open-source intelligence and traditional human rights testimony for public interest purposes. Based on testimonies documented, no victims of this attack have been approached by France or the Mali government to date – suggesting that a post-strike investigation has not been initiated despite mounting evidence.


“France has a systematic problem in admitting and identifying civilian casualties. The mounting evidence on the Bounti wedding airstrikes still has not triggered any investigations on part of France or the Mali government – none have approached the victims to date”, Khalil Dewan, Head of Investigations at Stoke White said.


“While we wait to see what France’s military draw-down will look like in practice across the Sahel, Macron is increasing his drone fleet - this time armed with hellfire missiles which suggests that the French Armed Forces will have an official targeted killing policy".

“France is no stranger to kinetic airstrikes - manned or unmanned - but scrutiny of its interpretation of the laws of war, conduct and intelligence sharing on target meta-data with Europe and US (vice versa) must be on radar for human rights practitioners. A broader framework of abuse is being applied across the Sahel, widening the net for accountability”, Dewan said.

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