By Laurent Prieur
NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania said on Sunday that 17 people were killed in a joint attack carried out with Mali on an al Qaeda in North Africa's (AQIM) camp in the Wagadou forest region near Mauritania's border on Friday.
A spokesman for the Mauritanian army said 15 al Qaeda fighters were killed and nine were captured by the Malian army. Seven Mauritanian soldiers were wounded, but two of them died later from their wounds.
"The operation, carried out about 70 kilometers from our borders, follows a decision by the Mauritanian army to sweep the area where a well protected armed camp threatened the security of our country," army spokesman Colonel Teyib Ould Brahim told a news conference.
Brahim added that the sweeping operation was ongoing and so he could not give further details.
Another officer from Mauritania's army operations bureau said they had planned the operation with the intention of wiping out al Qaeda's camps.
"The operation was well planned; we were not lured into this fight. We acted knowingly...we went searching for the enemy to destroy it," Colonel Brahim Vall Ould Cheibani told the same news conference.
"Malian and Mauritanian forces were divided in two wings. The base camp was on our side and we destroyed it," he said.
A source from the Malian government told Reuters on Saturday that the clash had involved the use of heavy weapons. The source added that helicopters from Mali had been used to evacuate the wounded from the area.
Governments in Africa's Sahel region are on heightened alert since the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in May.
Security analysts have said AQIM may be planning revenge attacks, and may also have new access to weapons and explosives from Libya since an uprising there weakened the government's control of stockpiles.
(Writing by Bate Felix)