French troops eliminate a key al-Qaeda member in Mali

The operation, carried out in the early hours of 25 February, killed a jihadist in charge of AQIM's finances and logistics
AFP/MICHELE CATTANI - Un grupo de soldados del Ejército francés patrulla en el Sahel

AFP/MICHELE CATTANI  -   A group of French Army soldiers on patrol in the Sahel.

Weeks after France announced the withdrawal of its troops from Mali, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed the death of a prominent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist, Yahiba Djouadi, known as Abou Ammar al-Jazairi. This jihadist, of Algerian origin, was a military advisor to Abdelmalek Droukdel, leader of the group who was also killed by the French army in June 2020.

In 2015, Al Jazairi moved to Libya where he was in charge of managing funds and training fighters. Subsequently, in 2019, he settled in Mali and from the Timbuktu region "coordinates the supply of materials for the benefit of AQIM and GSIM (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims) senior commanders of logistics and finance", according to the French Ministry.

AFP PHOTO/ECPAD  -   Un soldado de las Fuerzas Malienses (FAMA) habla con un soldado de la misión francesa de Operación Barkhane (izq.) durante una operación conjunta de coordinación táctica, en una foto de archivo
AFP PHOTO/ECPAD - A soldier of the Malian Forces (FAMA) speaks with a soldier of the French Operation Barkhane mission (left) during a joint tactical coordination operation, in a file photo.

The jihadist, who originally trained in the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), was involved in several attacks aimed at expanding jihadism into North Africa. For this reason, Al Jaizairi was sanctioned by the United Nations. "AQIM has carried out several acts of terrorism in the region and has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Austrian tourists in southern Tunisia on 22 February 2008. The two Austrian tourists were taken to northern Mali, where Yahia Djouadi is active," explains the UN. AQIM was also responsible for terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016 against two hotels, one in Bamako and the other in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso.  

AFP/DOMINIQUE FAGET  -   Soldados franceses del destacamento de la Operación Barkhane en la base francesa en la ciudad norteña de Malí de Gao
AFP/DOMINIQUE FAGET - French soldiers of the Operation Barkhane detachment at the French base in the northern Malian town of Gao.

Al Jaizari was "neutralised" in an operation carried out during the night of 25-26 February at a location 100 kilometres north of the city of Timbuktu. The mission involved ground troops working with a Tiger helicopter and two drones. The French army also destroyed a weapons and ammunition depot.

According to Paris, this is "a new significant tactical success for the Barkhane force, which remains determined to continue the fight against armed terrorist groups alongside its European and American allies in the Sahel". On the other hand, the death of Al Jazairi "makes it possible to weaken once again" Al Qaeda and GSIM.

AFP/ PASCAL GUYOT - Un helicóptero Eurocopter Tiger (Eurocopter EC665 Tigre) aterriza en el aeropuerto de Mopti, en Sevare
AFP/ PASCAL GUYOT - A Eurocopter Tiger helicopter (Eurocopter EC665 Tiger) lands at Mopti airport in Sevare.

Paris continues to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against terrorism in the volatile Sahel region. Despite announcing the withdrawal of troops, the Elysée has indicated that the withdrawal will last "up to six months". In this regard, "operations against armed terrorists, especially against the main leaders of Al Qaeda, GSIM and ISGS (Daesh in the Greater Sahara)" will continue.

France has maintained troops in Mali since 2013, when it launched the Serval military intervention, the predecessor of Operation Barkhane. However, following the 2020 coup d'état in Mali, relations between Paris and Bamako deteriorated considerably. Last February, the Malian military junta urged France to withdraw its troops "without delay" from the country. According to a government spokesman, the nine years of French presence "were not satisfactory". 

AFP/ PASCAL GUYOT - Un soldado francés de la operación Barkhane, una misión antiterrorista en el Sahel, patrulla mientras un helicóptero Eurocopter Tiger (Eurocopter EC665 Tigre) opera un vuelo táctico en Mali
AFP/ PASCAL GUYOT - A French soldier from Operation Barkhane, an anti-terrorist mission in the Sahel, patrols while a Eurocopter Tiger helicopter (Eurocopter EC665 Tiger) operates a tactical flight in Mali.
After France's withdrawal, the Wagner group takes up positions in the Sahel

The power vacuum left by France has been exploited by the paramilitaries of the Russian Wagner group, who are seeking to expand their influence in the Sahel. This organisation, which has been linked to the Kremlin on several occasions, has been welcomed by both the military authorities and a large part of society.

After the coup in Burkina Faso, for example, supporters of the new military junta celebrated the event by carrying Russian flags. "We don't want France any more," one citizen told the US media VOA. "We are here because we want the defence of Russia. France has done nothing to give us success," he added.

PHOTO/AP - Los malienses que apoyan el reciente derrocamiento del presidente Ibrahim Boubacar Keita se reúnen para celebrarlo en Bamako, Mali, el viernes 21 de agosto de 2020. En el cartel en francés se lee "Gracias a China y Rusia por su apoyo en Mali"
PHOTO/AP - Malians supporting the recent overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita gather to celebrate in Bamako, Mali, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. The sign in French reads "Thanks to China and Russia for their support in Mali".

The Malian military, for its part, asked Wagner's mercenaries for help in confronting Islamic fundamentalism in the face of the "ineffectiveness" of French troops. However, this group, which has also been involved in other conflict zones such as Syria and Libya, is at the centre of controversy for its military actions.

The UN accuses these Russian paramilitaries of "war crimes" such as "torture, executions, indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilians, occupation of schools and looting". For these reasons, the EU decided to sanction it for its "destabilising" action. The measures approved by Brussels affect eight people, including Dmitri Utkin, considered the founder of Wagner.