Africa
jihadis

Russian mercenaries to Mali?

France, now in the process of drawing down its military presence in West Africa’s Sahel nations, criticized plans that could see Russian mercenaries brought to Mali, where jihadist groups tied to ISIS or al-Qaeda operate in large parts of the country. Reports suggest that Mali’s transitional government is considering a deal with the Wagner Group, which has close links to Vladimir Putin and is also active in Central African Republic. The Coordinating Body of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Tuareg rebel groups that signed a peace deal with the Malian government in 2015, likewise expressed its “firm opposition” to any agreement to bring in the Wagner Group. (Photo: FIDES)

Africa
Sahel

Mounting massacres across Africa’s Sahel nations

The tri-border region where the Sahel countries of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso come together is the scene of fast-mounting massacres by presumed Islamist militants. Attacks on civilians and security forces alike have left hundreds dead this month. In Niger, peasants were gunned down while working their fields in Banibangou village—an attack attributed to a local ISIS franchise. In Mali, ongoing deadly attacks have caused a massive population exodus in several regions of the country, including Menaka, Mopti, Gao, Timbuktu and Sikasso. “Violence is spreading so rapidly across Mali that it threatens the very survival of the state,” said UN human rights expert Alioune Tine after a visit to the country. (Map: Wikivoyage)

Africa
Sahel

France announces Sahel drawdown

France is to reduce its forces battling jihadists in the Sahel—a seven-year deployment that has failed to stem the violence, and which has proved increasingly unpopular both in the region and domestically. President Emmanuel Macron said there would be a “profound transformation” of its Operation Barkhane, with France relying more on special forces, air power, and cooperation with allies. France has suffered a recent setback in the Sahel with the death of its close ally, Chadian leader Idriss Déby, and an increasingly complicated relationship with Mali—the focus of Barkhane’s 5,100-strong intervention. Earlier this month, Paris suspended joint military operations with Malian forces after a second coup. Macron has also refused to support moves by some Sahelian countries to open negotiations with jihadists, and has suggested that African partners have not pulled their weight in the counter-insurgency fight—a conflict widely seen as militarily unwinnable. (Map: Wikivoyage)

Africa
Coalition for the Sahel

Outrage over French air-strike in Mali

A French airstrike killed 19 civilians attending a wedding celebration in a remote Malian village, according to an investigation by the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA. The report based its findings on hundreds of interviews, satellite images, and evidence gathered from a trip to Bounti, the village hit by the January strike. The French defense ministry rejected the report, maintaining the casualties were Islamist militants. French troops were hailed as heroes by many Malians when they drove out militant groups from the country’s desert north in 2013. But criticism has grown as a 5,000-strong regional counterinsurgency force—called Operation Barkhane—has failed to prevent militants from regrouping and expanding across West Africa’s Sahel. Despite recent battlefield gains, the operation is drawing increasing comparisons to the US war in Afghanistan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Africa
Dirkou

US steps up drone ops as Sahel violence flares

In the latest outbreak of fast-escalating violence across Africa’s Sahel, gunmen in Niger killed at least 58 people when they intercepted a convoy of four commercial transport vehicles carrying local civilians from a weekly market, and attacked nearby villages. The passengers were summarily executed, and homes and granaries put to the torch in the villages. The attacks took place in the Tillabéri region, near the flashpoint “tri-border area” where Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso come together. Militant groups linked to ISIS and al-Qaeda cross between all three countries. The CIA is stepping up drone surveillance flights from a base it has established at Dirkou, in Niger’s Agadez region. MQ-9 Reapers are stationed at the base, and armed strikes on militant targets are said to be under consideration pending a review by the Biden administration. (Photo: Airman Michelle Ulber via Israel Defense)

Africa
Mali

UN to investigate ‘crimes against humanity’ in Mali

UN investigators into political violence in Mali reported to the Security Council that they found evidence that government forces have committed “war crimes,” while jihadists and other armed groups perpetrated “crimes against humanity.” The allegations are made in a 338-page report compiled by the International Commission of Inquiry, a panel examining events in Mali over the six years after it spiralled into conflict in 2012. The report, which has not yet been made public, recommends establishing a special court to try accused perpetrators. But the recommendations are being met with some wariness in Mali. The opposition Rally of Patriotic Forces demands that foreign militaries operating in the country be covered in the scope of the investigation—including France. (Photo via Andy Morgan Writes)

North Africa
JNIM

Mali: now a three-way war —or four?

Jihadist militants continue to wage a low-level insurgency in Mali, targetting government troops and their French allies. Last week, the Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (JNIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on French forces. But internecine fighting between jihadist factions also takes an increasing toll. Since an apparent truce broke down this year, there have been repeated clashes between JINM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the self-declared Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. Amid all this, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), seeking self-rule for the Tuareg people in the desert north, maintains a precarious independence from both the jihadist and government forces. In a statement, the MNLA accused the government of fomenting conflict in the region as a strategy to avoid ceding autonomy to the Tuaregs, as mandated by a 2015 peace accord. The statement warned that the MNLA will not surrender its arms until terms of the accord are instated. (Photo of JNIM militants via Long War Journal)

Africa
Mali troops

Sahel security forces accused of war crimes

Soldiers rampaging through villages in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared at least 199 people between February and April 2020, Amnesty International said in a new briefing. Some of the killings amount to extrajudicial executions and among the victims are internally displaced persons. The deliberate killings of unarmed civilians by security forces could meet the qualification of war crimes. (Photo: Magharebia via Wikimedia Commons)

North Africa
Intikane

Deadly attack on Niger refugee camp

More than a thousand people are on the run following a brutal attack on a camp for refugees and displaced persons in western Niger. Three were killed and several others wounded as over 50 gunmen on motorbikes swarmed into the camp at Intikane village, near the Malian border. The camp housed some 20,000 refugees from Mali and an additional 15,000 internally displaced persons from within Niger, including many ethnic Tuaregs, who have fled fighting in their own communities. In addition to killing three, the assailants torched food supplies and other aid. They also destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water pumping station and pipes. Although no group has been named in the attack, numerous armed factions with links to either al-Qaeda or ISIS have been mounting an insurgency across the Sahel over the past years, despite the presence of thousands of regional and foreign troops in a multinational military campaign to suppress them. (Photo: UNHCR via Flickr)

Africa
Mali troops

Sahel security forces accused of extrajudicial killings

Security forces in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are accused in a rising toll of extrajudicial killings commited in the context of their battle against jihadist groups in the Sahelian region. In Mali, soldiers conducted 101 executions, 32 forced disappearances, and 32 cases of torture in the first three months of the year, the UN Mission in the country reported—a significant increase over the last quarter of 2019. (Photo: Magharebia via Wikimedia Commons)

Africa
Niger displaced

Niger counterinsurgency sparks displacement crisis

The French-backed military campaign against Islamist militants in Niger is claiming victories against the insurgency that has mounted in the country since 2015. Niger’s defense ministry claims that over the past month, “120 terrorists have been neutralized,” a presumed euphemism for killed. The operation has centered on the Tillabéri region near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, where a state of emergency has been in place for two years. The claimed progress comes amid a massive displacement crisis, however. According to UNICEF, nearly 78,000 people have been displaced in Tillabéri and adjoining regions. Nearly 3 million people in Niger, more than half children, are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance, amid risks posed by insecurity, malnutrition, recurrent disease epidemics and outbreaks, cyclical floods, droughts and displacement. (Photo: UNHCR)

Africa
Coalition for the Sahel

France prepares more troops for Sahel

At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region’s growing militarization. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel. (Photo: Wikipedia)