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.