Inside Anti -Terror Battle in Sahel-Analysis
Where to deploy forces to contain jihadist terrorists? The question deserves to be asked after the attack in the Ségou region.
By Patrick Forestier
The new attack on a military grip West of Ségou, barely 80 kilometers from the Mauritanian border, now places this region as the country’s second hot spot. Just after that of the three borders adjoining Niger and Burkina Faso, where reinforcements from the French Barkhane system and African battalions of the G5 Sahel are expected to eradicate the GATs, the armed terrorist groups affiliated to it, as agreed at the Pau summit.
Islamic State is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of soldiers. In the Ségou region, on the other hand, no reinforcements seem to be on the agenda while this vast populated area is criss-crossed by GATs, who claim to be Al Qaeda. It was probably their combatants who killed 20 gendarmes by storming their Sokolo camp, located in the Niono circle.
An attack carried out as usual at five in the morning, which surprised the sleeping soldiers and the sentries, not numerous enough or who were not on guard. No one heard the motorcycles of the terrorists arrive, and who even had to walk the last few meters. Two hours of combat before the terrorists take control of the camp and take a dozen vehicles, weapons, ammunition and their corpses to bury them themselves, so that they cannot be recognized.
By the time reinforcements arrived from Diabaly, which was barely ten kilometers away, they had passed out in the wild. The Malian army reconnaissance plane saw nothing either.
After each attack, the terrorists chewed up in small groups of two or three motorcycles in a region crossed by a multitude of tracks through the fields, canals, groves and hamlets populated by inhabitants terrorized by GAT, which control today de facto abandoned campaigns, as in the region of the three borders.
The security and administrative vacuum has gradually given way to the law of the jihadists, who recruit young people out of work, angry with the state and the corruption of civil servants and soldiers who, to increase their often non-existent pay, undue “taxes” on the pretext checks that they operate at the exit of villages, on tracks little used by terrorists.
The Mauritanian method
Suddenly, the region passes under their influence that it will be very difficult to eliminate, as is the case in the region of the three borders where African and French troops should soon be concentrated, without guarantee of results. By activating their front to the west, the GATs, in a tactical agreement, could “relieve” their strength in the center, which will very quickly find themselves facing more soldiers.
The objective sought by the terrorist leaders is to redeploy, so that they strip the three borders, part of the G5 troops towards Mauritania,a country that the GATs no longer risk attacking, because it has managed to adapt to the situation on the domestic level, by monitoring its imams very closely, while convincing them of the merits of the fight against terrorism by conceding to them a margin of maneuver, on the religious level; which could amount to a non-aggression pact with the extremists.
So, in Nouakchott, no imams, as we see in Bamako, who vociferated in the streets to found a political party and demand the departure of the more discreet French troops.
However, it was tricolor special forces that were the mentors on the border of the Mauritanian intervention groups, very involved in the fight against terrorism,a proactive policy of Nouakchott which resulted in the upgrading of its armies, with a reconnaissance squadron, three paratrooper battalions, others of infantry and two of the National Guard camel troops, who know the desert like their pocket.
Many have already operated successfully in the past against GATs in Malian territory, in the name of an agreement on the resale right,the same that unites Mali and Burkina Faso, also included in the G5, but which had a few months ago differences over their national sovereignty.
In the areas near Mauritania where the gendarmes were killed, the jihadists do not cross it: they prefer to stay in Mali and take refuge in the forest of Wagadou which serves as their rear bases. This is a huge expanse of acacias and thorny trees, a hundred kilometers long and forty wide, where combined operations have already been carried out with the Mauritanian army.
A “forgotten” area
Last November, Malian soldiers risked it alone with mixed success. They have, according to a disputed record, killed jihadists, suffering significant losses during the fighting against an enemy sheltered behind trenches and anti-personnel mines. From these lairs, the Islamists launch operations against convoys or army posts. On December 13, the Farako sub-prefect was abducted from his home by men on motorbikes, still in the Ségou region.
The director of the Academy of Ségou had sent an open letter to the Minister of Security and Civil Protection to draw his attention to what is happening in this area “completely forgotten by the authorities where there is not even a military base to secure populations, “writes Mali info. In February 2019, a kidnapped prefect and journalist were released. A judge in Niono, he died at the hands of his captors in 2017. On January 2 of this year, the jihadists attacked the civil prison of Niono, the city in the center of the area in permanent war. Without success.
They lost a man in this failed assault. But in December 2016, they had succeeded in making escape 93 prisoners, including probably several of their members. A presence that goes back a long way. In 2013, during the ascent to Timbuktu through the same region of the column of Operation Serval commanded on the ground by General Barrera, the terrorist groups were already present. Not daring to rub themselves against the French tanks, they had withdrawn with their pick-ups in the forest of Wagadou. Seven years later, they are still there. And no one has managed to dislodge them.