On November 13 France announced the neutralisation of Bah Ag Moussa, the military leader of the JNIM terrorist group. This group linked to al-Qaeda is the merger of several local Malian terrorist networks which, together with the Islamic state of the Great Sahara, are the two leading representatives of Jihadism in the area of the three borders (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger). The JNIM network was formed in 2017 and includes the local Jihadist groups of Katiba Macina, which acts mainly in the centre of Mali, Ansar Dine and Al-Mourabitoune, which operate in the north and east of the country, and the Malian faction of al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. This network is led by Iyad Ag Ghali, a former leader of the Tuareg revolutions of the 1990s who was radicalised in the 2000s and has become the leading representative of Jihadism in Mali. French operation Barkhane has attempted to neutralise the Jihadist threat led by Ag Ghali, which continues to expand, since 2015. The operation that succeeded in wiping out Bah Ag Moussa took place on November 10 late afternoon. The intelligence teams detected an SUV with five people on board on the outskirts of Menaka in the north-east of the country. After trying to make the car stop, the Jihadists got out of the vehicle and shot at Barkhane's soldiers who were on the ground. As a device of several commandos and four helicopters were mobilised, all the terrorists, including Ag Moussa, were shot down in minutes.
The neutralisation of Bah Ag Moussa, who was acting as military leader, is a major blow to this terrorist network. He is accused of a series of crimes against Malian soldiers such as the March 2019 attack in which some twenty FaMA (Malian Armed Forces) soldiers were killed. Bah Ag Moussa was also a historical leader of the Tuareg revolutions who, according to sources in his community, joined the Jihadist group mainly out of loyalty to Ag Ghali, not out of ideological conviction. Bah Ag Moussa was not seen by the Tuaregs as a Jihadist, but as a military chief under leader Ag Ghali. This is not the first case of Tuareg leaders joining the Jihad out of loyalty to Ag Ghali; other representative cases such as the Tuareg Ifogha leaders of Cheikh Ag Aoussa or Ahmada Ag Bibi who joined Ag Ghali when he created Ansar Dine show a loyalty to this character that goes beyond religious convictions. Together with the neutralisation of Abdelmalek Droukde, emir of AQIM in the Sahel, last June, these two operations succeeded in partially dislodging JNIM.
Two days after this successful operation, France announced that, in another separate operation, it had also eliminated some thirty Jihadists in the Mopti region in the centre of the country. The operation combined several air assets such as the Mirage 2000 fighter plane and several combat helicopters and neutralised around thirty JNIM members, also destroying around twenty motorbikes and the weapons they were carrying in the process, according to the defence staff spokesman. Ten days earlier, a similar operation had been announced in which fifty terrorists belonging to the Jihadist group Ansaroul Islam, closely linked to JNIM and active mainly in Burkina Faso, had been killed on the border between Burkina Faso and Mali.
Operation Barkhane had 4,500 men on the ground and, following the G5 Sahel Pau summit in January 2020, its presence was reinforced with a further 600 French soldiers to counter the multiplication of Jihadist attacks that had taken place in 2019. These three operations over the past 10 days are intended to reinforce France's decision to give priority to military operations by excluding dialogue with the Jihadists. All these achievements of Operation Barkhane come a few weeks after the Malian transition government, headed by Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, stated its intention to begin a dialogue with Ag Ghali and Koufa, two leaders of JNIM. France's position on this matter is very clear; in the words of French defence minister Florence Parly, it is not possible to negotiate with Jihadist groups which have not renounced terrorist combat. Regardless of whether the Malian government decides to continue with the line of dialogue with the Jihadist leaders, the successful counterterrorist operations of the past month have helped reinforce the relevance of using military means to put an end to Jihadist cells. It was essential for France to recall Mr Barkhane's successes following Moctar Ouane's declarations and the negotiations held in early October to free the Western hostages, during which 200 presumed fighters of Jihadist groups were released in exchange.