Aftermath of a car belonging to a Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) commander targeted by a French airstrike as part of the raids. (Source)
The French military announced that its forces killed or captured at least 20 jihadists in near simultaneous raids in northern Mali yesterday as part of the ongoing Operation Barkhane. The raids occurred near the border of Mali and Algeria, close to the Algerian town of Tinzaouatene. The raids reportedly targeted senior commanders of al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM).
“During the night of February 13 and 14, 2018, French forces engaged in the Sahel carried out an operation on three objectives of armed terrorist groups in the northeast of Mali, between Boughessa and Tinzaouatene.
The operation began with simultaneous airstrikes on the objectives followed by helicopter assaults supported by Tiger helicopters and concluded with engagements on the ground. The balance sheet, provisional at this stage, is about 20 terrorists killed or captured, three vehicles destroyed, several weapons captured, and a large number of documents seized.”
A different military source told AFP that the raids were on a “base of the head of the network, Iyad Ag Ghaly, at Tinzaouatene, which was the main target of the operation.” Tinzaouatene has long been used as a rear base for Iyad Ag Ghaly’s Ansar Dine, which is now part of JNIM. AFP also confirmed that the French military had been conducting operations in that part of Mali for the past several days.
French troops from Operation Barkhane, along with troops from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso (collectively known as the G5 Sahel force), have conducted numerous military operations across Mali since last year. Many of these have been focused near the borders of Burkina Faso, where violence emanating from another al Qaeda-linked organization, Ansaroul Islam, is common. French forces have been conducting raids and airstrikes in northern Mali since intervening in the country in 2013.
However, despite the French operation, the G5 Sahel personnel, and a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali, al Qaeda’s forces have persisted in maintaining its insurgency which has expanded in recent years. Al Qaeda still retains the ability to operate openly in Mali and strike in various locations across West Africa. Its violence is also spreading further south in Mali and into neighboring Burkina Faso.