A senior official of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, a bodyguard and two civilians were killed in northeastern Mali in a French airstrike, the French Armed Forces said in a release.
“On August 26, 2018 in the region of Menaka (Mali), units of the Barkhane force carried out an action against an armed terrorist group, neutralizing Mohamed Ag Almouner, one of the main officials of the State Islamic in the Greater Sahara,” the Monday, August 27 statement said.
The night operation consisted of an airstrike by two Mirage 2000 jets followed by a ground action to seize the position.
“The commandos deployed confirmed the death of Mohamed Ag Almouner and one of his bodyguards. They found that two civilians, a woman and a teenager, had also been killed,” the statement said.
Two other civilians and another ISGS member were injured.
The statement expressed regret at the civilian casualties and said an investigation is underway to determine how civilians were hit during the strike.
“The proven presence of civilians near the target would have led to the cancellation of the mission,” the statement said.
It was unclear what Almouner’s role was in ISGS. French army spokesperson Colonel Patrik Steiger told AFP he was “a lieutenant to the ISGS chief.”
Almouner, under the nom de guerre Tinka ag Almouner, was one of three people named as being involved in the October 2017 Tongo Tongo ambush in Niger in which four U.S. and four Nigerien troops died, according to the Menastream blog, which citied the New York Times. According to the Times, U.S. officials said Almouner was killed in the Tongo Tongo incident.
ISGS, based on Mali’s border with Burkina Faso, is one of several jihadist groups in the country where French forces have been fighting for several years to help restore government control.
It is led by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi who was formerly a member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group.
Gao airbase runway renovation almost complete
Separately on August 27, the French Armed Forces said that the renovation of the runway at Gao airbase was almost complete after several months of work.
The work was carried out by the United Nations mission in Mali, Minusma, and the 2,500 metre runway has already been in use. Two Mirage 2000s landed there on August 20 before returning to their home base.
The runway is limited to daytime use, but night flights will be enabled once runway marking has been completed.
Gao is not intended to become a base for deployment of Operation Barkhane fighter planes, which will continue to operate from Niamey and N’Djamena.
The United Kingdom recently sent three Royal Air Force Chinook heavy lift helicopters and 90 personnel to support Operation Barkhane from the airbase in Gao, and Estonia deployed around 50 soldiers who are tasked with ensuring the security of the Gao military base.
Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, exploiting a Tuareg separatist uprising. France began a military intervention the next year that evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment with a mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region, encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Around 4,500 French personnel are deployed, and they work alongside the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train 5,000 troops, as well as peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Minusma stabilization mission in Mali.
With reporting from AFP. This post was updated multiple times on August 27.