For the first time, Islamic jihadists have conducted coordinated attacks on the three military bases in Mali. The jihadists, who are reportedly linked to al-Qaeda, targeted French military bases in Kidal, Menaka, and Gao in northern Mali within the space of a few hours on Monday as they tried to coordinate attacks.

The bases were hit by rocket attacks as well as mortars but no one was injured. “There were no casualties, but there was some material damage,” a Malian military official told AFP.

Thomas Romiguier, a spokesman for the French-led coalition added that the only base damaged was the United Nations base in Kidal, which is next to the French base.

Al-Qaeda released a statement through its affiliated media network, al-Thabat saying that, “The rocket attacks of the mujahideen, in support of Islam and Muslims, targeted the bases of the French infidel army.” 

Locals in the town of Gao reported that the rocket attack began at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning. The attack on the base at Kidal was conducted after a group of men on motorcycles were observed riding around the camp before dawn, a camp security officer said.

“It was after they passed by that there was fire from rockets and machine guns. There were no deaths but there was significant material damage,” the official specified.

The violence in Mali began in 2012 with a rebellion by Tuareg separatists. However, that rebellion was hijacked by Islamic jihadists from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In 2013, the French sent troops to the country. They promptly contained the jihadist rebels in the fiercely contested northern area of Mali, thus nearly pushing them completely out of the country.

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But the jihadists regrouped and rearmed. They now control large areas of the countryside where the government has only a small presence and little control. The violence has since spread to the other neighboring countries in the Sahel: Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania.

As part of Operation Barkhane, the French have 5,100 troops in Mali battling the Islamic insurgents. They also lead the multinational Special Operations Task Force Takuba. The task force is comprised of European Special Operations troops tasked with advising, accompanying, and assisting the Malian forces in their struggle against the Islamists. 

The violence in the Sahel has caused the death of thousands of civilians and the displacement of more than two million people in the region. The humanitarian crisis is growing worse as there are nearly 13.5 million people in dire need of assistance according to the United Nations.

Besides the violent attacks by Islamic jihadists, insecurity, widespread human rights violations — including gender-based violence and violence against children — and the effects of climate change have affected the majority of the people living in the semi-arid Sahel region. Semi-nomadic herders are losing their traditional grazing lands and moving into farming territories. 

According to UN health officials, the problems in the Sahel have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already affected areas hosting refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Despite a low number of cases detected so far, the steady increase of infection rates indicates a forthcoming emergency that far exceeds the capacity of national health services to tackle it.

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda have used the pandemic to promote the idea that COVID-19 is a divine punishment targeting the “unbelievers” in the West. They use the fact that the first confirmed cases in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso were all “imported” from Europe.