Nineteen members of the security forces died and five were wounded on Sunday in a major assault by suspected jihadists at a military camp in central Mali, the army said.
“The provisional toll is 19 dead, five wounded,” Malian Armed Forces said on Twitter.
A local lawmaker said all those killed at Sokolo military camp were gendarmes or paramilitary police officers.
“The terrorists arrived on motorcycles,” said the official, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
Sokolo resident Baba Gakou told AFP: “There were more than 100 attackers.
“They arrived at five in the morning. They cut off any withdrawal by the gendarmes.
“The firing stopped at seven am,” he said, adding that the assailants left with all the weapons and vehicles at the camp.
“They picked up all their dead. They did not touch anyone in the village,” he told AFP.
A local humanitarian source who managed to enter the camp after the suspected jihadists had left, described the scene as “complete chaos”.
“It looked like the attackers knew what they were doing,” the source said.
Sokolo is located in central Segou region where jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda are known to operate.
The armed forces tweet said troops were combing the area backed by a military aircraft following the assault.
Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted in the north in 2012 and has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives since.
The Bamako government announced Wednesday it would hold legislative elections in late March after repeated postponements prompted by insecurity and political infighting.
Holding the elections was a key recommendation from crisis talks in December aimed at exploring non-military solutions to the worsening violence.
Despite 4,500 French troops in the Sahel region, plus a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.