France kills top Islamic State in the Greater Sahara commander in northern Mali

A top commander for the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) was reportedly killed in a French military operation in northern Mali over the weekend.

The French military announced today that its forces carried out airstrikes and a ground operation yesterday in Mali’s northern Menaka region. The airstrikes reportedly killed Mohamed Ag Almouner, identified as a top commander for ISGS, as well as one of his bodyguards. In a move of transparency, the French also took responsibility for killing two civilians and wounding two others and expressed their “regret and condolences to the families and loved ones of the two victims.”

In May of this year, the US military identified an ISGS commander known as “Tinka Ag Almouner” as being involved in the deadly Oct. 2017 ambush in Tongo Tongo, Niger, in which four American Special Forces soldiers were killed. That Almouner was reported killed in the ensuing firefight during the ambush, however, FDD’s Long War Journal cannot independently verify the identity of the French target.

France has taken part in several operations against the jihadist group in the Menaka region, however, Almouner would be one of the highest level ISGS commanders reported killed by the French.

France’s statement did not disclose a specific location, but local sources reported the operation took place near Infoukaretane. That locality, which is south of the town of Menaka, has seen several clashes between pro-government forces and ISGS and is at the center of operations against the jihadist group and its supporters.

Two pro-Malian Tuareg militias, the Imghad and Allies Self Defense Movement (GATIA) and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), have launched numerous military operations against ISGS in the Menaka region since February. According to the militias, dozens of ISGS members have been killed or detained, including another high-ranking jihadist commander identified as Djibo Hamma.

At the same time, the two militias have also conducted numerous massacres of Fulani, Arab, and Tuareg civilians they suspect of supporting ISGS. These massacres have taken place in both Mali’s Menaka region and in Niger’s Tillaberi region.

In return, ISGS – which consists of Fulani, Arabs, and some Tuaregs – have also committed numerous massacres of Tuareg populations that are close to the two pro-Malian militias. As the pro-Malian militias are nominally operating under a counterterrorism apparatus supported by the Malian state and France, little has been done to curtail its involvement in extrajudicial killings which only continues the cycle of violence in Menaka.

ISGS, which is led by Abu Walid al Sahrawi, has claimed several attacks in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso since 2016. It has gained little publicity from Islamic State headquarters, with its pledge of allegiance only being acknowledged in an Amaq video one year later. Nevertheless, the group continues to operate in the Sahel with loyalty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his Islamic State.

The jihadist group has faced many recent setbacks apart from the killing of Almouner. Earlier this month, Sultan Ould Bady, a veteran Malian jihadist who led ISGS’ Katibat Salahadin, surrendered to the Algerian military. The loss of Bady and Almouner will likely have serious ramifications for ISGS.

Caleb Weiss is a contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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2 Comments

  • James says:

    Good for the French. This has got to be a global effort. We need to work with other countries. We can not expect our soldiers and our taxpayers to shoulder the entire burden. It’s not just the French or US that are benefiting from the elimination of these thugs. We need to compel the cooperation and assistance of as many countries to assist US in this effort as we can. It should be added to Trump’s list of demands to end the tariffs and resume economic assistance to those countries that are lacking.

  • Steve H. says:

    Just curious if these were regular French units, the F.F.L., or some mix of the two.

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