Al Qaeda-linked fighters have increased attacks in northern Mali and in neighboring states despite the French-led counterterrorism mission in the African country that is entering its third year.
Early this morning, jihadists assaulted the town of Nampala near the Mauritanian border, killing seven Malian soldiers before the military was able to send reinforcements, Reuters reported. The fighting lasted for nearly seven hours until the jihadists withdrew from the town.
Today’s attack is the latest in a string of recent assaults against Malian troops and UN peacekeepers, government officials, and tribal leaders.
On Jan. 4, six Nigerien UN peacekeepers were wounded after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in the Ansongo-Menaka axis region near Gao. Additionally on Jan. 4, seven UN-contracted supply trucks en route to Gao were stopped by unidentified gunmen near Kidal and burned.
On Jan. 3, a prominent Tuareg tribal leader and mayor of a town close to the Niger border was killed by “gunmen on four motorcycles,” according to Sahara Media. The assailants are believed to have belonged to the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).
On Jan. 2, the UN said it has recorded “a number of clashes in Gao and Timbuktu regions” according to Reuters. The article is not clear on who was involved in the clashes, but the news agency did quote a UN official as saying “We condemn in the strongest possible terms these acts of violence and provocation, especially the hostage-taking and pillaging,” tactics that are commonly associated with the jihadist groups operating in the region.
On Dec. 29, militants conducted a rocket attack on the UN base in Tessalit in the Kidal region of northern Mali. While no one was hurt, nine rockets were fired into the UN compound. Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-affiliated Malian jihadist group, took responsibility for this operation. On Dec. 31, another rocket attack hit the UN base; much like the first incident, no injuries were reported. It is suspected that Ansar Dine was also behind the second attack.
Four major jihadist groups operate in northern Mali and in neighboring countries: al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa; al Murabitoon, the alliance between Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Mulathameen Brigade and Ahmed el Tilemsi’s faction of MUJAO; a MUJAO faction led by Sultan Ould Bady; and Ansar Dine, which AQIM’s emir described as the “domestic” arm of AQIM designed to distract the international community from targeting al Qaeda. These groups cooperated with Tuareg rebels to take control of northern Mali in the winter of 2012 and were advancing on the capital of Bamako before French troops intervened in January 2013 and launched a counteroffensive to drive the jihadists underground.
Attacks in Mali and Niger in 2014
Jihadists have launched at least 34 significant attacks in Mali and five more in Niger in 2014, according to data compiled by The Long War Journal [see accompanying map]. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the most common method used by the groups; 15 IED attacks were launched against French and UN forces as well as civilians in 2014. Jihadists also conducted at least five rocket attacks, including two on the Timbuktu airport. Other violence included two kidnappings outside of Kidal and Aguelhok, and a firefight with French troops that left one commando and 20 jihadists dead.
Five jihadist assaults occurred in Niger. In one incident, near the border with Mali, nine Nigerien troops were killed after clashing with al Qaeda-linked militants. The militants also assaulted a Nigerien prison, a Malian refugee camp, and a patrol of Nigerien troops in three simultaneous operations. During the raid on the prison, several inmates were freed from their cells. [See LWJ report, 1 French commando and 20 militants killed in Mali, 9 Nigerien troops killed in Niger.]