Jihadists launch suicide assault on airport in northern Mali

Last night, jihadists in northern Mali launched a complex suicide assault against an airport in Timbuktu. French and Malian troops repelled the attack, and claimed to have killed 10 of the 30 fighters involved in the raid, according to Reuters.

The suicide bomber targeted a checkpoint manned by Malian troops outside of the airport in Timbuktu. One Malian soldier was killed and six more were wounded in the blast at the checkpoint. The fighting at the airport lasted several hours and included airstrikes by French aircraft.

While no group has claimed credit for the suicide assault, it could have been executed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or Ansar Dine, or a combination of fighters from those groups. In its designation of Ansar Dine as a global terrorist today, the United Nations stated that in November 2012, Ansar Dine established “an alliance” with AQIM and MUJAO and defined “a common strategy.”

There have been six suicide attacks in Mali, including the attack last night in Timbuktu, since France intervened to halt the takeover of Mali by AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine in mid-January. The first suicide attack was conducted on Feb. 9 in Gao. Attacks have also taken place in Kidal and Tessalit. Three of those suicide attacks have been claimed by MUJAO. French and Malian forces are still fighting to reestablish control of northern Mali, which was seized by the al Qaeda-linked groups in March 2012.

Last night’s attack in Timbuktu is the first suicide attack reported in the town, which is now under French and Malian control. The complex assault took place just hours after French President Fran├žois Hollande said that the jihadist groups are nearly defeated and “that the sovereignty of ‘almost the entire territory’ of Mali would be restored in ‘a few days,'” France24 reported.

Hollande has been eager to call an end to the military incursion in Mali and withdraw French troops. After French forces invaded Mali in mid-January, various leaders indicated that French troops would be involved in fighting only for several weeks. But more than two months later, French forces are still engaged in fighting against the alliance of jihadist groups in northern Mali.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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4 Comments

  • jayc says:

    Bill, what is your criteria on using the verb “claimed”?
    I see that a lot in war reporting. I understand that many forces reporting are subject to hyperbole and inflated reporting, but I wouldn’t suspect the French of that. Is it you just don’t have verification, or you don’t trust the claim? Thanks in advance.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    jayc, in this case it is the later, there just doesn’t seem to be verification. If you click through to the Reuters report, the 10 was an estimate. I’m sure the French aren’t making this up, they may have killed 7, 9, 10, 12 or 14 jihadis… hope that makes sense.

  • mike merlo says:

    The French are learning the hard way that exiting a ‘Combat Zone’ is as much, if not more, determined by their adversary as opposed to ones own thoughts on ‘the matter.’
    Mali is just another example of how little ‘The West’ actually understands The Islamic Internationale and The Strategy it is employing to satisfy its goals & objectives.

  • Matt says:

    Don’t everyone cry in Marja I said 6 months with the surge troop number. The last phase in Mali is different it is going to take some time to clear out the strong holds. It can be done with less troops.

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