French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced on Friday that French special operations forces have killed Bah ag Moussa, a senior military leader of JNIM, al-Qaeda’s North African wing. In a separate operation, 30 JNIM jihadists were killed in central Mali the French Defense Ministry announced.
The French ministry said that the 30 terrorists were killed by mountain commandos, supported by helicopters and Mirage jets. The French also captured or destroyed weapons and motorbikes after “several hours” of combat. The battle took place near Niaki, 110 miles east of the town of Mopti.
Regarding Bah ag Moussa Parly added that he was in charge of the training of jihadi recruits in the region.
Symbolically, the news was announced on November 13, 2015, the fifth anniversary of the worst-ever French terrorist attack in Paris by jihadist gunmen and suicide bombers.
“A historic figure of the jihadist movement in the Sahel, Bah ag Moussa is considered responsible for several attacks against Malian and international forces,” Parly said.
Surveillance drones helped the French-led coalition in Mali identify the truck Moussa was riding in the Menaka region of eastern Mali. The French then launched an assault with helicopters and 15 French commandos, French military spokesman Frederic Barbry said. All five people in the truck were killed after they ignored warning shots and fired on the French forces, Barby added.
Barbry didn’t specify whether the drones were controlled by U.S. forces or if other allied forces accompanied the French but said that the French assault was an act of “legitimate defense” and the bodies of those killed were handled “in conformity with international humanitarian law.”
Moussa was a former Malian army colonel and Tuareg rebel. He was also known as Bamoussa Diarra and was the right-hand man of Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), Mali’s most prominent jihadi group. Ghali is on both a U.S. and UN sanction list.
JNIM has taken advantage of the political instability in the Sahel and is responsible for several attacks against military and civilian targets in both Mali and Burkina Faso.
The French have been stepping up Special Forces and conventional operations in recent weeks and scoring successes.
The recent operational start of the French-led “Takuba” Special Operations Task Force in Mali is just the tip of the iceberg. French and Estonian SOF troops are now leading operations along with host nation forces.
The operation to take out Moussa came just a month after the Malian government had reached a deal with the JNIM to release Prime Minister Soumaila Cisse and French aid worker Sophie Pétronin, who had both been kidnapped by JNIM, in exchange for 200 jihadi prisoners.
Since this summer, following the coup in Mali, a transitional government has taken control. It has promised to conduct free elections in 18 months. But the new government is coming increasingly at odds with French military forces: The French are intent on taking the war to the jihadists, whereas the transitional government is hoping to negotiate with the jihadists and reach a settlement.
Opinions are split on whether the death of Moussa will be a significant blow to the jihadist insurgency that is enveloping the Sahel region. The French believe that his death will be a major boost to Operation Barkhane. But if history is any indicator, this won’t be the case: After all, the American-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken out many terrorist leaders, always to have another take his place.