French forces over Nigeria. Photo by Thomas Goisque via Wikimedia Commons.
The French military has dealt a deadly double blow to al Qaeda in North Africa, killing one of the region’s top terrorist leaders as well as dozens of militants.
A French commando raid on Thursday, supported by fighter planes and combat helicopters, killed some 30 members of an armed jihadist group in Mali, the French military reported Friday. French Army spokesman Frederic Barbry told Agence France-Presse that the French operation targeted the al Qaeda-aligned Group to Support Islam and Muslims, or GSIM, a militant jihadist group operating in North Africa.
The raid comprised a French mountain commando team supported by airstrikes from Mirage fighter jets and Tiger attack helicopters, a French military statement said. The battle reportedly lasted “about an hour” and took place near Niaki, in central Mali.
The French military also announced on Friday that it had killed a key GSIM commander, Ba Ag Moussa, during a Tuesday “high level operation” involving ground troops and helicopters in northeastern Mali. Moussa, a former Malian army officer, was a top deputy to Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of GSIM, which is Mali’s branch of al Qaeda and the country’s most notorious armed group.
“A historic figure of the jihadist movement in the Sahel, Ba Ag Moussa is considered responsible for several attacks against Malian and international forces,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said in a Friday statement, announcing that Moussa had been “neutralized.”
“This is a major success in the fight against terrorism,” Parly said, adding: “Indiscriminately, whether it is [ISIS] or al Qaeda, France strikes those who, in the name of their deadly ideology, attack civilian populations and wish to stabilize the states of the region.”
Les forces armées françaises ont neutralisé un haut cadre d'Al-Qaïda, ce 10 novembre au Mali. Je félicite nos militaires pour ce succès qui prive Iyad Ag Ghali d'un de ses principaux adjoints. Leur engagement, leur courage et leur abnégation nous rendent forts et fiers. pic.twitter.com/dx6JRgw3HJ
— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) November 13, 2020
Symbolically, French officials announced the dual counterterrorism operations on Friday, the five-year anniversary of the Nov. 13, 2015, Bataclan terrorist attacks in Paris, in which ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in a coordinated series of bombings and shootings.
France has about 5,000 troops deployed to North Africa as part of an ongoing counterterrorism mission called Operation Barkhane. Since its inception in 2014, the French counterterrorism operation has reportedly killed more than 600 terrorists in Africa’s Sahel region. About 50 French military personnel died during those missions. In January, French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed France’s commitment to counterterrorism operations in Africa, pledging another 220 troops to Operation Barkhane.
The Sahel is a vast region stretching more than 3,000 miles across Africa, from the Atlantic in the west through Sudan in the east. Northern Mali fell under the control of terrorist groups in 2012, creating a lawless space akin to what Afghanistan was like prior to America’s 2001 invasion.
Some 25 Islamist militant groups operate across Africa, according to the US Department of Defense. About 6,000 US defense personnel are currently deployed to Africa, the Military Times reported.