Islamic State video details operations across the Sahel

Islamic State fighters outside of the Inates Nigerien military base in Dec. 2019.

In its first official release from the region, a new Islamic State video details the jihadist group’s varying operations across the Sahel over the last few years.

While the group has released videos from the region via its Amaq News in the past, today’s video also marks the first time footage from the Sahel has been released through the Islamic State’s West African Province.

While the group is now within the West African Province branding, it is still colloquially known as the “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara,” or ISGS.

The large-scale production serves as both a recap and highlight reel for the Islamic State in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

For instance, archival footage of Abu Walid al Sahrawi, the overall leader of the Islamic State’s forces in the Sahel, pledging bayah (allegiance) in 2016 is shown.

That video came almost one year after Sahrawi first defected from the al Qaeda fold. To juxtapose these old pledges of allegiance, the Islamic State also shows pledges of bayah to its new leader, Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurayshi, at the end of the video.

Additionally, segments in which the former Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, discuss the Sahel in his April 2019 video are also included in today’s video.

Battles Across the Sahel: Niger

Framing its fight as against the French government and its allies in the region, the Islamic State first offers a brief synopsis of events in Mali since 2013.

Two members of ISGS, a local Tuareg and an Algerian, then discuss the Islamic State’s fight against the “Crusaders” in the region and their allied militias before the video shifts to the 2017 ambush of U.S. soldiers near Tongo Tongo, Niger.

Footage previously released by the Islamic State from that attack reappears in today’s production, as does the leaked helmet camera footage from one of the killed U.S. soldiers.

Also shown in today’s video is the May 2019 attack on Nigerien troops near Tongo Tongo. That attack, which killed at least 28 Nigerien soldiers, came immediately after the Islamic State’s men assaulted the Koutoukale prison near Niamey.

The prison break attempt, which was reported foiled by Nigerien officials, is also briefly featured in the video.

Both the July and Dec. 2019 raids on the Nigerien base at Inates are also highlighted. The two assaults were similar in nature, with both beginning with suicide car bombs before ground forces stormed the base.

The two attacks resulted in almost 100 combined fatalities for Nigerien troops, with ISGS’ men capturing large amounts of weapons, equipment, and vehicles.

In the July attack, both American and French troops assisted in the counter-assault; while the jihadists were able to briefly overrun the base in last month’s raid.

Mali

Turning to Mali, a brief combat scene between the jihadists and “secular militias” in the border regions with Niger is also featured.

While not explicitly named, the militias referred to by the Islamic State are the Imghad and Allies Self Defense Movement (GATIA) and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA).

GATIA and MSA, two pro-Bamako militias in northern Mali, have routinely fought against the Islamic State’s men in Mali’s Gao and Menaka regions, as well as within Niger’s Tillaberi region. In 2018, the militias, backed by France and Mali, fought a short, but intense war against the jihadist group.

Since then, the militias have reported sporadic clashes with the Islamic State. It is not immediately clear which specific battles are featured in the video, as multiple locations are shown. The gory execution of two members of the GATIA-MSA alliance is also shown.

Another brief scene, an undated IED on United Nations troops between Menaka and Ansongo, is also highlighted in the video.

The Menaka-Ansongo axis has long been prominent location for jihadist attacks by both the Islamic State and al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and its predecessor groups.

The Nov. 2019 assault on the Malian base at In-Delimane can also be seen. At least 54 Malian soldiers were killed in the raid, one of the deadliest jihadist strikes inside Mali in recent years.

The video also repeats the Islamic State’s claim that it shot down a French helicopter near In-Delimane shortly after the assault on the base. Thirteen French soldiers were indeed killed after their helicopter crashed during a battle against the jihadist militants near the town.

The French military has denied the Islamic State’s version of events.

Burkina Faso

Despite the multitude of attacks in Burkina Faso, only one assault is shown in the video – the Aug. 2019 raid on a Burkinabe base in Koutougou in Soum province. According to Burkinabe officials, at least 24 soldiers were killed, while another seven were wounded in one of the country’s deadliest attacks.

In the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility almost one month later, it stated that its men were able to briefly seize control over the base before withdrawing with captured weapons and equipment. Today’s video appears to confirm this information.

Additionally, the jihadists can be seen burning the base before retreating, which was also reported at the time.

Sahelien Security

Security in the Sahel has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, as violence stemming from both al Qaeda and the Islamic State has rocked Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Both JNIM and the Islamic State have increased attacks in the region, thereby exacerbating region’s security.

While JNIM is still the dominant jihadist actor inside Mali and large parts of Burkina Faso and Niger, recent Islamic State attacks in the region have demonstrated its growing capabilities.

State responses, as well as actions taken by non-state actors against various ethnic communities, have also added to the perilous security situation across the region.

In many respects, jihadist forces can exploit anti-government feelings to posit themselves as local defenders and thereby entrench themselves further in Sahelien society. This has already played out to some degree inside central Mali.

Select screenshots from today’s Islamic State video from the Sahel:

Battles with Tuareg militias:

May 2019 attack near Tongo Tongo, Niger:

May 2019 Koutoukale, Niger, prison assault:

July 2019 assault on the Nigerien base at Inates:

December 2019 assault on the Inates base:

August 2019 Koutougou, Burkina Faso, assault:

Nov. 2019 assault on the Malian base at In-Delimane:

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

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