Malian authorities said columns of armed insurgents on motorbikes had pinned down the army unit, but the troops killed more than 50 militants despite losing eight of their own.
At least eight Malian soldiers have been killed and 14 others injured in a clash with armed militants in the northeast of the African nation.
The defence ministry said late on Friday that columns of insurgents on motorbikes had pinned down the unit, but the army — backed by the air force — killed 57 of them.
Four soldiers are missing after Friday's incident in the tri-border area near Burkina Faso.
Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are struggling to contain armed militants linked to al Qaeda and Daesh that control swathes of territory in the porous border area of the West African Sahel.
Friday's attack comes as Mali's ruling military junta asked France to withdraw troops from its territory "without delay".
It called into question France's plan for a four- to six-month departure as the move highlighted the breakdown in ties between Paris and its former colony.
France and military allies are leaving Mali after using it for almost a decade as a base for fighting insurgents.
Relations between Paris and Bamako have deteriorated since the ruling military junta went back on an agreement to organise an election in February and proposed holding power until 2025.
There are fears that the exit of 2,400 French troops from Mali could worsen the violence there, destabilise neighbours and spur migration.
A French-led mission of 14 mainly European nations with 600-900 soldiers in Mali is also winding up.
France has said Mali's capacity to fight against militants on its territory was now Mali's problem, as French and allied forces will now move to neighbouring countries to help reinforce national armies.