Mali's president says stability is at stake after the deadly attack on the army base

BAMAKO Mali The president of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has asked citizens to join behind the country's army, after the last deadly militant attack killed more than 40 soldiers.

The president declared three days of mourning after Friday's attack against an armed base in Indelimane, the northeast of the country, near the border with Niger.

In these particularly serious circumstances where the stability and existence of our country are at stake, our only response must be national unity, the sacred union around our national army, he said in a statement Monday night.

He added that support from foreign forces, including from France , Africa and the United Nations , is more necessary than ever.

Friday's assault was the latest to target Mali 's military, which is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that began in the north and spread to the center of the country. At least 40 troops were killed a month ago in a double attack near the Burkina Faso border.

Islamic State-allied militants claimed responsibility for the Indelimane strike during which gunmen on motorbikes attacked the base in three different groups, according to Mali an army sources and a UN document seen by AFP.

Authorities say at least 49 soldiers were killed.

Over the weekend two more Mali an soldiers were also killed by a roadside bomb and a French soldier was also killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.

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.

France still has around 4,500 troops in the country as part of its Barkhane operation and is looking to hand more responsibility to local forces.

The Minister of the Armed Forces of France, Florence Parly, on an official visit to the Sahel asked for patience in the battle against the militants.

This is a fight in which we must be patient, he said on a visit to Barkhane's operations in the capital of Chad. We still need time for local forces to increase their resistance.

The neighbors of Burkina Faso and Niger have also been infiltrated by insurgents, at the cost of hundreds of lives.

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.