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Did the US launch a drone strike on AQIM in northern Mali?



According to Magharebia, a "mystery airstrike" targeted a convoy of the "Yahya About al Hammam Brigade," a unit of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operating in northern Mali, and killed seven fighters. An excerpt of the article is reproduced below, but read the whole thing.

Two US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal who are involved in the targeting of al Qaeda operatives worldwide would neither confirm nor deny the reported strike.

If confirmed, this would be the first known drone strike in Mali by the US since Ansar Dine, an AQIM-allied group, and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad took control of Northern Mali. The two groups announced their merger and the formation of a breakaway state in late May, but reports of discord between the groups over the imposition of sharia law have surfaced since that time.

The US has used drones elsewhere in Africa, including in Somalia against Shabaab, al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia/East Africa, and in Libya during the NATO intervention.

The location of the reported strike is about as remote as it gets in Africa, a no-man's-land in in the Sahel. But the expanding US covert operations in Africa now include unmanned US reconnaissance aircraft flights over locations in Mali, Mauritania, and the Sahara, according to The Washington Post. See this report, from The Washington Post, and the accompanying graphic on locations of US bases in Africa. The US has a base in Burkina Faso which it uses to conduct PC-12 surveillance flights.

From the Magharebia report [emphasis added]:

A surprise missile strike in Mali's breakaway province of Azawad killed seven al-Qaeda terrorists last week.

"The Yahya Abou al-Hammam brigade came under an air attack about 200km north of Timbuktu near Taoudenni," journalist Mohamed Ag Ahmedu told Magharebia.

He added that the raid targeted a convoy of four vehicles belonging to the brigade linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The injured militants sustained "serious" wounds and were receiving treatment at a hospital in Timbuktu, the journalist said.

"Abou al-Hammam himself is in Timbuktu, and he was spotted by some National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) gunmen who secretly roam the city at night," Ag Ahmedu said.

The attack came a week after unidentified reconnaissance airplanes were spotted hovering above Timbuktu, El Khabar reported on Sunday (June 17th).

According to the Algerian daily, western countries have transferred Special Forces and transport places to the region and placed the area under surveillance through reconnaissance, drones and satellites. The measures are reportedly in preparation for launching air raids on AQIM and jihadist groups.

And another recent Magharebia report noted that militants in Timbuktu from "Ansar Dine and al Qaeda groups" are becoming concerned about the increasing presence of surveillance aircraft in the area, and have begun using heavy weapons against them, but so far without success.



READER COMMENTS: "Did the US launch a drone strike on AQIM in northern Mali?"

Posted by mike merlo at June 24, 2012 2:32 PM ET:

there is also a possibility this Drone Strike may have originated from Algeria

Posted by Robert A. Hall at June 24, 2012 6:51 PM ET:

Imagine the media publishing, "Is the US getting ready to land in Normandy" in May, 1944? I will link to this from my Old Jarhead blog

Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
(All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans)
For a free PDF of the book, write tartanmarine(at)gmail.com

Posted by Jim Cregg at June 24, 2012 7:14 PM ET:

Timbuktu says it all!

Posted by James Albright at June 24, 2012 8:18 PM ET:

According to the Washington Post the US is building a network of airbases, one is located in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, for the purpose of spying on AQIM with small aircraft. When the CIA began using the drones to fight AQAP in Yemen Panetta announced that they intended to fly drone missions over North Africa as well. Corresponding to this Obama just appointed a Tzar to oversee the drone operations in Yemen in order to control what information is disseminated to the US public. I have no doubt that it was a US drone that fired the rocket. The US is fighting al-Qaeda where ever they are threatening the Muslim Brotherhood including in North Africa. The US is not fighting al-Qaeda where ever they are fighting Israel and killing Christians.

Posted by Will Fenwick at June 24, 2012 10:53 PM ET:

Its just as likely a french airstrike as it is a US one, Mali is usually their sphere of influence and in the past the US generally defers to security matters in the region to the French. Though with the info presented in the article it is also possible that forces deployed for OEF-Trans Sahara might be being beefed up for potential operations against AQIM to prevent Azawad from turning into another AQ safe haven like abyan province in yemen was.
It would seem to me like the situation in Northern Mali / Azawad will play out like US strategy in Somalia has. The US and French with advise and supply the regional alliance ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) for an invasion of Azawad just as they relied on the African Union to supply the ground troops for the invasion of Southern Somalia against the Shabab. (In regards to Robert Hall's comments, ECOWAS has already declared its intention to invade northern mali if it receives UN approval). I would expect the US and French to use airstrikes/drone strikes to pick off important targets like has been done in Somalia, but not get involved combat wise any more than that unless ECOWAS itself gets bogged down or cancels the invasion.

Posted by Joe at June 25, 2012 7:54 AM ET:

Honestly this could be a French or British operation as well. Both countries have been active in the area and the Brits have armed drones. The Europeans have real beef with these guys over kidnappings of their citizens from neighboring countries, and the French special forces have a lot of local knowledge and probably have local eyes on the ground. AQIM is much more of a threat to the Euros than it is to us.

Posted by gerald at June 25, 2012 11:26 AM ET:

We can only hope that AQ is diffusing and not metastasizing.

Posted by mike merlo at June 26, 2012 1:09 PM ET:

@Will Fenwick
Good call Will. I believe one of the main reasons the French are pulling out of Afghanistan earlier than scheduled is because of what you succinctly pointed out. Allocation & distribution of manpower & resources appears to be something NATO is responsibly addressing.

The French & the British have demonstrated on multiple occasions their willingness to act unilaterally in Africa. Their post colonial approach to Africa while easily subjected to ridicule & criticism has more often than not resulted in positive outcomes. Albeit temporary in many instances but certainly not for want of trying.

Posted by sundoesntrise at June 27, 2012 6:46 PM ET:

American drones have been busy watching Al Qaeda training camps in Derna, Libya and eastern Libya very recently. CNN confirmed this. After our military adventure in Libya, it was easy as pie to funnel fighters and supplies into Northern Mali so the bearded Islamists could take power and start killing and whipping people as they please.

We create the problem, and then we eventually attack what we created.

I think I'm just going to go bang my head repeatedly against a brick wall now.