BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Gunmen ambushed Malian army troops in the West African country's central region, killing at least nine soldiers and wounding 11 others, an army statement said.

Three army vehicles were destroyed after hitting explosive devices in the Mopti region between Koro and Bandiagara on Wednesday, said the statement.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but it is similar to others carried out by extremist groups linked to al-Qaida that are active in central Mali.

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Mali has been battling to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels had seized control of Mali’s northern cities but were pushed out of those urban centers in 2013 with the help of a French-led military operation. However, the insurgents quickly regrouped in the desert and began launching frequent attacks on the Malian army and its allies.

The extremists have expanded their reach well into central Mali, where their presence has inflamed tensions between ethnic groups in the area.

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