At least 51 people have been killed in northern Mali by armed Islamic jihadists, who attacked and burned three villages near the border with Niger, in the latest instance of violence to beset the Sahel region.

The villages of Ouatagouna, Karou, and Deouteguef were attacked in a coordinated assault by jihadists on motorcycles at about 6 p.m. on Sunday, according to a government official.

“The terrorists went into the villages and massacred everyone,” a military officer, asking not to be identified, told AFP. “More than 40 civilians were killed,” the officer said.

Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso, a military convoy was ambushed around 3 p.m. local time. In the attack, which happened near the border with Mali close to the village of Dounkoun in Toeni district, 12 troops were killed and eight others were wounded. Several vehicles were destroyed. 

No group has taken responsibility for the two terrorist attacks in the Sahel. However, an attack in which insurgents on motorcycles surround a town and fire indiscriminately sounds like the hallmark of the Islamic State. 

UN Peacekeeping Forces in Mali have been unable to keep up with the violence. (AP)

A Continuing Humanitarian Crisis

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), a regional offshoot of ISIS, is openly fighting the al-Qaeda affiliate Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) in the Sahel after at first cooperating with it. 

In the Sahel, Islamic insurgents linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have fought Malian troops, French and European forces, and United Nations peacekeepers to a standstill. 

The Sahel, comprised of Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, has been beset with violence for nearly a decade. The unrest began in the former French colony of Mali when Taureg separatists revolted against the government in 2012. That insurgency quickly transmogrified into an Islamic one. The insurgents have exploited ethnic grievances across the Sahel nations, as well as poor governance, political instability, massive corruption, and poverty, to draw recruits.

French forces and Malian partners are facing growing violence in the region.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting. In Mali, nearly 400,000 people have been displaced. While in Burkina Faso, the number of people displaced has nearly reached 1.5 million. As a result, the Sahel faces one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. In 2019, the number of people unable to consistently secure food was 680,000; in 2020 that number skyrocketed to more than three million. 

The French, who have been the backbone of the anti-jihadist force defending the Sahel, have announced that they will begin withdrawing their troops as the French population has grown increasingly tired of the long-term fighting.

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