Al Qaeda retreats from west Mali camps -military sources
* Mali-Mauritania border zone secure after bloody offensive
* Al Qaeda operatives believed to have retreated
* Camps dislodged, weapons stockpiles found
By Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda fighters have fled western Mali following a bloody military offensive to dislodge them from the area, Malian security sources said on Friday.
A joint force involving around a thousand Malian and Mauritanian soldiers began a sweep through the border region in late June after reports that al Qaeda's North African wing, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was setting up new bases.
"The camps have been dislodged, including one that was heavily equipped, and the weapons stockpiles were dismantled," a military official told Reuters, asking not to be named.
At least 27 people were killed in the joint offensive, including two Mauritanian soldiers, according to security sources, though AQIM claimed it killed 20 Mauritanian soldiers in a single clash in late June.
Al Qaeda's threat in the Sahel region has been on the rise in recent years, with the group receiving millions of dollars in ransoms from a string of kidnappings. Continued...