The Sahel remains a hot spot, particularly in Mali where violence continues unabated. Malian troops and jihadist militants have been clashing as militant attacks on civilians and small towns persist.
In a recent raid, Malian troops killed about 30 militants. Mali’s armed forces posted on Twitter that they had killed “about 30 terrorists” near the border with neighboring Burkina Faso in operations late last week. The army captured 25 motorcycles as well as other equipment.
Additionally, last week in northern Mali, three Chadian peacekeepers were killed and four others seriously wounded on an attack, with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), against their U.N. convoy.
Mali is the ground-zero in an Islamist insurgency that began in 2012 and has since spread to the neighboring Sahel countries. In response, the French sent troops to aid their former colony and the region. After an initial 4,500 troops were deployed, the French deployed another 600 this year. France also leads the European Union special operations task force “Takuba.” The task force, which is just getting off the ground, is designed to help the nations of the G5 Sahel — Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
Despite the presence of the French and other U.N. troops, the violence has overwhelmed the country. Resultantly, Mali remains the epicenter of the French efforts against instability in the Sahel.
In this volatile situation, an extra cause of instability has been added: ISIS and al-Qaeda, seeking to gain an edge on one another have clashed. They compete for influence, recruits, and resources in the war-torn West African state.
The Islamic State, through its weekly newspaper, al-Naba, has stated that its fighters have had “fierce clashes” with rival al-Qaeda fighters in both Mali and Burkina Faso. ISIS blamed Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), a jihadist group that has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, for mobilizing large forces to attack ISIS positions in both countries.
The al-Naba article claims that JNIM leaders, Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Koufa, have been ordering their forces, in numerous operations since early April, to attack ISIS positions. In addition, JNIM was allegedly blocking fuel supplies from reaching ISIS fighters and detaining locals suspected of supporting the Islamic State. ISIS claims that the JNIM tactics are designed to take advantage of an uptick in the French-led G5 operations against ISIS in the Sahel.
Fighting between the two jihadist organizations is nothing new; they have been at odds for quite some time. Yet, the current situation may contradict reports from a few months ago, according to which the two jihadist groups were cooperating in attacks against the local military posts and government-controlled towns.
In Mali, for the first time, a Central European country, the Czech Republic, will command a military mission on West African soil. The Czech army, which has been part of the EU mission in Mali since 2013, is preparing to take command of that mission in June. With the Portuguese troops, who have been in charge, set to leave, the Czech troops will assume leadership of the operation for the next six months. Brigadier General František Ridzák will in command of the mission.
The mission’s objective is the training of Mali’s army. The training was suspended in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.