Tuareg alliance reports more clashes with Islamic State-loyal militants

The Imghad and Allies Self Defense Movement (GATIA) and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), two allied pro-Mali Tuareg groups, announced yesterday its fighters have again clashed with militants loyal to the Islamic State led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi in Mali.

In a joint statement, the Tuareg alliance said its forces fought in two separate battles against the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) on April 1. The first clash took place near Akabar near the Nigerien borders, while the second took place near Bani Bango, also within Mali’s northern Gao region.

The alliance reportedly lost three of its fighters, while five others were wounded. However, 20 ISGS fighters were reportedly killed and many others were captured by the alliance. Weapons and vehicles were also reportedly captured by the Tuaregs.

GATIA and MSA last reported clashes with ISGS earlier last month, also near the Nigerien borders. In that battle, the Tuaregs said five jihadists were killed, including a high level commander named as Djibo Hamma. Shortly thereafter, the alliance said that its forces recaptured a US Special Forces vehicle from ISGS. That vehicle was used in the Oct. 4 ambush, which killed four US Special Forces soldiers and many other Nigerien soldiers.

In late February, the alliance reported its first clash with ISGS in a new offensive, in which six jihadists were killed or captured while one vehicle originally belonging to the Nigerien military was recovered. RFI reported that French forces also conducted joint operations with the Tuareg groups, beginning on Feb. 22, and were aimed at killing or capturing Sahrawi, but he reportedly fled the area.

GATIA is a signatory member of the Platforme alliance, a group of largely pro-Malian state armed groups in the northern half of the country. MSA was founded last year by former members of several pro-Azawad groups [Azawad refers to northern Mali], but is allied to GATIA and other Platforme groups. The two have operated alongside Malian and French troops against rival Tuareg groups and jihadists.

The Islamic State-loyal forces led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi, referred to as “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” (ISGS), has been linked to several attacks in the Tillabery region of Niger, the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, and in the Gao region of Mali. This includes last October’s aforementioned ambush in Niger and a suicide bombing on French troops in the Gao region earlier this year.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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