Jihadist groups operating in the West African country of Mali have launched a spate of attacks in the northern portion of the country in recent days. Many of these assaults targeted UN forces operating there, however, one targeted French special forces who are in the country as part of France’s Operation Barkhane.
Three French special forces soldiers, one identified as Mickael Poo-Sing by the French military, were killed near the northern town of Tessalit yesterday when their vehicle hit an IED. Poo-Sing was killed immediately, while two others later succumbed to their wounds at a military hospital in Gao. One other French soldier was wounded in the blast. While this is the only attack in the area that targeted French forces, it is not the only ambush to occur in recent days.
In addition to the IED on the French in Tessalit, a UN vehicle also hit a roadside bomb just north of Aguelhok reportedly killing two. While in the city of Aguelhok, a Chadian soldier stepped on a landmine according to local sources. Days earlier on April 9, Ansar Dine, which is a front for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed two bombings on the Aguelhok-Tessalit axis just north of the city of Kidal. The first, which occurred on April 7, the Tuareg jihadist group claimed targeting Chadian forces with an IED near the town of Taghlit. The next day, according to Ansar Dine, the jihadists did the same to an unspecified UN vehicle in the same area.
Jihadist forces also directed their attention to civilian enemies, as well. Near the Algerian border town of Bordj Badji Mokhtar, a Tessalit government official was reportedly assassinated by jihadists two days ago.
On April 10, gunmen ambushed a UN military patrol outside of Timbuktu near the town of Gourma injuring three peacekeepers. No group has yet to claim the assault, but AQIM has been behind most attacks in the area. For instance, last July the UN’s mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced that six of its peacekeepers were killed after their convoy was attacked near the city of Goundam, which is just west of Timbuktu. At least five others are said to have been injured. AQIM claimed responsibility for the ambush on the convoy. A month later, AQIM killed 10 Malian soldiers in an assault on an outpost in Gourma. (See LWJ reports, AQIM attack on UN convoy near Timbuktu kills 6 peacekeepers and AQIM claims killing Malian soldiers near Timbuktu.)
Additionally, a UN base in the Gao region was also recently targeted. Yesterday, the MINUSMA camp in the city of Ansongo was targeted by several mortars. However, no damage is said to have been done. The UN camp in Ansongo was previously targeted by Al Murabitoon with rockets in January of last year, which is also said to have caused minimal damage. Al Murabitoon, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has since merged back into AQIM.
Most jihadist attacks in Mali continue to be perpetrated in the northern half. However, 15 have been perpetrated in the southern half since the beginning of this year, and last year at least 30 occurred in the south. Assaults emanating from Mali have also increased in the last two years. In 2014, two attacks occurred in Niger, while last year three ambushes occurred in Burkina Faso. This year, northern Mali-based jihadist groups have already struck in Niger, three times in Burkina Faso, and in Ivory Coast.
AQIM and its various different groups in the region continue to demonstrate its threat by striking in the capital cities of Bamako and Ouagadougou and in the Ivorian resort city of Grand-Bassam. Other West African cities are likely in the crosshairs as the jihadists resurge and take advantage of precarious security situations throughout the region.
In Mali, the country continues to suffer from an al Qaeda insurgency, despite a UN-led peacekeeping mission and a French-led counterterrorism mission in the north. The UN has said that 81 of its personnel have been killed in Mali since the beginning of MINUSMA in 2013, making it the most dangerous UN mission in the world.
Article updated with new information.