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Forty-two Malian soldiers were killed on Sunday in northeastern Mali near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger in the deadliest attack by jihadists on Malian forces since 2019, according to a new report. This new count comes from an official document listing the names of the soldiers who died, authenticated by several senior AFP military officials on Wednesday, August 10. The previous one showed 17 soldiers and 4 civilians killed.
This is the highest official toll for the Malian army since the late 2019-early 2020 series of attacks by the Islamic State group on military camps in the same region known as the Three Borders.
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Sunday’s attack comes as Mali, which had ousted its old French ally and eagerly restarted cooperation with Moscow, has faced a resurgence of attacks from the smokescreen of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, JNIM in Arabic) for several weeks is ).
Among the four civilians killed were some elected local officials, relatives of the victims told AFP on condition of anonymity. The statement also claimed that seven “enemies” died in the attack, attackers “probably benefited from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and from drone and artillery support with the use of explosives and vehicle trap”.
The Tessit area on the Malian side of the border triangle in a huge, non-state-controlled rural region is the scene of clashes and attacks again and again.
Armed groups close to al-Qaeda, led by GSIM, have been fighting the EIGS group, which is close to the organization Islamic State (IS), there since 2020. The jihadists are trying to take control of this strategic and gold-bearing area.
The Malian army, stationed in a military camp near the town of Tessit, has also often been attacked in this region. In March 2021, 33 Tessit auxiliaries were killed in an ambush claimed by EIGS.
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Blue helmets from the UN mission in Mali also operate in this area, sometimes referred to as “Malian Gourma”.
As elsewhere in Mali, civilians are caught in the crossfire of these conflicting factions and accused of being allied with one or the other. In February, around forty of them were killed by the EIGS in Tessit, accused of complicity with al-Qaeda.
The residents of the area, regularly cut off from the telephone network for several years and surrounded all the more by land in the rainy season (July to September), have fled in their thousands, particularly to the large neighboring city of Gao, some 150 km away to the north. .
In late 2019/early 2020, this area of the three borders was the scene of the deadliest series of attacks that the three affected countries had known since the outbreak of the 2012 conflict in northern Mali.
More than a dozen outlying camps where Sahelian soldiers were holed up had been targeted by the EIGS, using a tried and tested modus operandi: blitz raids by fighters on motorcycles. Hundreds of soldiers had been killed. These setbacks had caused the Malian army, Nigerian and Burkinabe soldiers to retreat and regroup in stronger locations.
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A military breakout was announced during a Franco-Sahelian summit in Pau (south-western France) in January 2020. The EIGS had been labeled “enemy number one” and numerous operations had been conducted across the three borders in France and the Sahel.
Many leaders of the jihadist group were killed in 2020 and 2021, most notably its founder Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui in August 2021. But, several local residents and experts say, the group has never stopped recruiting and operating.
At least 11 coordinated attacks bearing the GSIM mark hit Malian territory at the end of July. One of them took place in Kati, just outside Bamako and in the heart of the Malian military apparatus.