France's defence minister sought to reassure Mali on Tuesday that its armed forces would be bolstered by European support, as the country reels from a devastating jihadist attack that killed dozens of soldiers.
Mali's military is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency despite the help of forces from France, Africa and the United Nations, with a string of deadly assaults underscoring the fragility of a region where jihadist violence has claimed hundreds of lives.
Gunmen on Friday targeted an army base in Indelimane in the northeast of the country near the border with Niger, leaving 49 Malian troops dead. Further weekend attacks killed two more Malian soldiers and a French soldier.
Instability and continuing attacks have raised questions over the ability of the Malian military and its international backers to take control of the security situation, sparking protests against foreign troops in recent months.
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, who is on an official visit to the Sahel, acknowledged that the security situation was "clearly difficult" and said it was "natural" for questions to be raised in the wake of such bloodshed.
"The fight against terrorism is a long-term fight. A war is not evaluated by each battle waged," said Parly, following a meeting with Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
She added France wants "if possible to be able to reinforce our support" referring to efforts to convince European partners to boost military assistance in the region.
Northern Mali fell into the hands of jihadists in 2012 before the militants were forced out by a French-led military intervention. But the jihadists have regrouped to carry out hit-and-run strikes in violence that has spread to central Mali.
A month ago some 40 troops were killed in a double attack near the Burkina Faso border.
Friday's bloodshed was claimed by Islamic State-allied militants. A UN report seen by AFP said three different groups attacked the Indelimane military base simultaneously.
MINUSMA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, helped the army build the Indelimane base last year. So too did soldiers from France's 4,500-strong Barkhane force, deployed in the Sahel region of Africa since 2014.
The G5 Sahel, a five-nation joint taskforce set up in 2014 to tackle the jihadist threat, is also active in the region. It comprises troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.
Keita has said Friday's attack shows that the help of foreign forces is "necessary more than ever".
But they have also stirred protests.
In mid October hundreds of demonstrators set fire to tires and ransacked UN supply containers outside a MINUSMA military camp in Sevare, near the central Mali city of Mopti.
There have also been several protests against foreign troops in Niger since the beginning of the year.