It has been two months since French forces began a campaign to rid Northern Mali from the rule of a collection of Islamist groups who have held onto the North for almost a year. Last month I reported on the progress that the French have made in the one month since they began their assault and in a blitzkrieg campaign they retook Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao from enemy forces. In that first month they lost one helicopter pilot to small arms fire from the ground and in late January the French Foreign Legion conducted a combat jump into Timbuktu.
What has happened in the past month? Well a ton but I’m not going to bore you with every small objective and incident that has taken place. Since early February to almost mid-March:
First week of February: French SOF based out of Kidal in Northern Mali begin a new campaign to kill/capture top AQIM leadership as well as securing the many French hostages being held in the region.
February 8th: A second combat parachute jump took place on February 8th in the Northern city of Tessalit by French SOF. The combat jump was followed by an air-landing to reinforce the men on the ground. You can see the footage of the air landing and French SOF on patrol in Tessalit below:
February 10th: Islamist forces launched a massive counter-attack against the recently recaptured city of Gao. French, Malian, and Chadian troops found themselves fighting in a guerilla war. Insurgency in Gao is still on-going.
February 19th: A second French soldier was killed in action. Legionnaire Harold Vormezeele with the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (2e REP) died during Operation Panthère.
February 25th: One of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb’s top three commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was killed during fighting in Northeastern Mali. Confirmed by AQIM, Algerian Intelligence, and French/Chad ground forces.
March 2nd: A third French soldier, Corporal Cedric Charenton, was killed in action in Northern Mali’s Adrar del Ifoghas. He was previously a veteran of Gabon and Afghanistan and the 26 year-old had been deployed in Mali since January 25th, 2013.
March 3rd: Reports have come out that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the number two man in AQIM was killed during fighting in the same region where Abou Zeid died a few days earlier. Still unconfirmed, but most likely has died.
March 6th: A fourth French soldier was killed by enemy forces in Eastern Mali – 60 miles from the city of Gao. Sergeant Wilfried Pingaud, 37 of the 68th African Artillery Regiment.