The French army on Monday announced that a "senior leader" from the militant group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had been killed in an overnight raid by forces from the EU nation's Operation Barkhane on February 25-26.
France said Yahia Djouadi, an Algerian Islamic fighter also known as Abu Ammar al-Jazairi, was killed in central Mali, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Timbuktu. According to French authorities, Djouadi was responsible for finance and logistics for the group in the Africa's Sahel region.
A statement released by the French army said the killing "once again weakens al-Qaeda's governance" in Mali, and called Djouadi "a major link in northern Mali and especially the Timbuktu area."
Djouadi formerly served as the "emir" of al-Qaeda forces in Libya before fleeing to Mali in 2019. From his base near Timbuktu, Djouadi is said to have coordinated financing, supplies and logistics for jihadis. France said he was eliminated by ground forces operating with air support.
French forces pulling out of Mali continue to fight jihadis
French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced the withdrawal of the country's troops from Mali and their redeployment to nearby nations in the region. The French army has said the pullout will take up to six months, adding, "operations continue against armed terrorist groups, especially against the top leaders of al-Qaeda, GSIM and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group."
France has maintained a troop presence in Mali since 2013, with 2,400 troops currently in the country. But it grew frustrated with leadership in the West African nation after two military coups led to the establishment of a ruling junta that has refused to relinquish power and appears to have indefinitely postponed elections.
At the same time French forces began their pullout, Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group began arriving to aid the junta — though Mali's military leaders have said they have no contact with the Russians. Despite international assistance, Mali and other countries in the Sahel have struggled to quell Islamic insurgents. Moreover, the region has recently been plagued by a spate of military coups, with Mali being one of seven countries to lose their government in the past 18 months.
Jihadis on the attack, kill UN peacekeepers
Jihadis, given the opportunity to consolidate amid regional political turmoil, continue to terrorize the region and international peacekeepers. On Monday, two members of the UN's Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) force were killed in a roadside bomb attack when the vehicle they were traveling in hit an improvised explosive device.
"This morning, a supply convoy ... struck an improvised explosive device north of Mopti," MINUSMA spokesman Olivier Salgado wrote on Twitter. Four other peacekeepers were injured in the attack.
MINUSMA leader El-Ghassim Wane also released a tweet on the attack, calling it "a tragic reminder of the daily threat facing us as we strive for peace in Mali." Wane also called on Mali "to spare no effort" in tracking down those responsible for the attack.
The nationalities of those killed and injured in the attack were not immediately released.
Future of UN peacekeeping mission in doubt
Western nations participating in the international mission have said the shifting situation on the ground may in fact compromise the 13,000-strong contingent, the annual mandate of which must be renewed this June. As with the French deployment to Mali, UN troops have been on the ground in the Sahel since 2013 in an effort to halt the advance of Islamic fighters who began seriously challenging governments and civilians in the region in 2012.
MINUSMA troops have been heavily dependent upon French air and medical support throughout their mission. France's withdrawal from Mali, as well as the recent coup, has caused contributing nations such as Germany, Sweden and Denmark to rethink their commitment to it.
js/msh (AFP, Reuters)