Mali military post

The recent assaults are a humiliation for the so-called G5 Sahel force -- a much-trumpeted initiative under which five countries created a joint 5,000-man anti-terror force -- and for former colonial ruler France, which is helping to bring security to the fragile region.

The violence has also spilt over into Burkina Faso and Niger where militants have exploited existing inter-communal strife, leaving hundreds dead.