The Malian army suffered another bloody setback in the northern region of the country. At least 29 people were killed, with some reports stating that all 29 were soldiers in the town of Tarkint, north of the city of Gao.
However, the military posted on social media that only two of the dead were soldiers, without offering more details.
“[A] Mali[an] military camp at Tarkint village in Gao city area was the target of a terrorist attack on Thursday morning. The death toll from the attack was 29 people and five injured,” the Malian military posted on Twitter.
No one has yet to claim responsibility for the attack. If the reports that all of the casualties were soldiers are correct it would make the attack the deadliest against the Malian army this year.
Mali’s poorly trained army has repeatedly suffered heavy casualties from armed groups active in the area with links to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). The French are trying to ramp up the training for not only the Mali military but the other members of the G5 Sahel by creating a Special Operations Task Force (Takuba) that will train, assist, and accompany host nation soldiers into the fight against al-Qaeda and ISIS.
While there are many armed jihadist groups operating in the region, the two main terror organizations behind most of the violence in recent years have been the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the ISIS-affiliated Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
The Sahel region is a semi-arid area just south of the Sahara. It spreads across Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
The violence which began in Mali back in 2012 has spread to the neighboring countries threatening their security. Since 2016 there have been five times as many attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger than before. Last year a reported 4,000 civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced as a result of the regional violence.
The situation is exacerbated by climate change. Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts, making life even more untenable for the civilian population who can ill-afford an additional hurdle.
Most of the Sahel is sparsely populated, very undeveloped and there is little to no government control. The jihadist groups operating in the region have exploited the rampant poverty. They also tap on religious and ethnic conflicts and divisions to bolster their recruitment.
Worse still, the ill-equipped and poorly disciplined militaries of the Sahel countries have been resorting to human rights abuses out of frustration; this pushes even more civilians into the influence of terror groups.
France has deployed 5,100 troops across the Sahel. But in truth, even the influx of NATO and European Special Operations Forces to aid in the French task force, Takuba, may not be enough.
(The U.S. has been aiding with refueling and drone overflights, which provide a big help in the French troops’ intelligence-gathering capabilities.)
The French and the European Special Operations troops, which are part of the Takuba task force, include some outstanding units, but they have an uphill climb ahead of them in the region. It will take not only military but also economic aid if the situation is to be turned around.