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Mali blames "command failure" for army defeat by rebels

Malian government officials said on Friday a "failure in the chain of command" had led to the army's humiliating defeat by armed separatists in the country's rebel-infested desert battleground.

BAMAKO: Malian government officials said on Friday a "failure in the chain of command" had led to the army's humiliating defeat by armed separatists in the country's rebel-infested desert battleground.

Around 20 Malian soldiers have been killed and 30 wounded in fighting since Wednesday that saw insurgents led by Tuareg rebels recapture the key northern town of Kidal and the smaller settlement of Menaka 660 kilometres (300 miles) to the south, according to the defence ministry.

"There was a big failure in the chain of command... It is clear that someone in the army took an initiative that was not their's to take," a senior Malian government official told AFP.

The criticism echoed the explanation provided by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who lamented the "impatience" of the Malian troops in Kidal at a press conference in Bamako on Thursday.

Government spokesman Mahamane Baby said on Wednesday the army had been forced into a retreat when the clashes originally broke out in Kidal over the weekend because they had been "weakened by problems of coordination, intelligence".

Inhabitants of Kidal and Menaka told AFP there had been no fresh outbreak of fighting on Friday morning.

"On the ground, it's quiet. Aside from these two localities, armed groups don't have any real hold on any other position either. The Malian army is in strategic locations like Almoustarat and Anefis," a foreign military source based in the north told AFP.

In Kidal, dozens of civilians who fled the violence had returned to the city, according to residents.

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