Commandos deployed to the France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel ‘neutralized’ eight Islamic State-affiliated fighters in Mali, the French Armed Forces Ministry said in a release.
Barkhane force personnel and Malian soldiers conducted operations in the Liptako area of Mali between October 15 and 23, the Thursday, October 24 release said, noting that as the rainy season ended, the “objective of this operation was to mark Barkhane’s presence and to maintain pressure on armed terrorist groups,” including Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
Attacks carried out by ISIS-affiliated militants in the Sahel have previously been attributed to ISGS but since May, Islamic State has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province.
During the operation the Barkhane force observed a group of what it described as ISGS fighters, and a unit made maneuvers, adapting as intelligence was received.
“Progressing through several successively detected enemy positions” and supported by Tigre helicopters and Mirage 2000 jets, the French commandos surprised and attacked a “terrorist combat group.”
A “complete terrorist combat group of eight fighters was neutralized” and many resources, including weapons and seven motorcycles, were seized.
“This operation demonstrates the capacity and willingness of the Barkhane force to operate in remote areas to improve Mali’s security situation for the benefit of the population,” the release said.
Former colonial power France began its military intervention in Mali in 2013, launching Operation Serval after extremists linked to al-Qaeda exploited a Tuareg rebel uprising to take key cities in the desert north. That mission in 2014 evolved into Operation Barkhane, which comprises around 4,500 troops with a mandate for counter-terrorism missions across vast Sahel region. Roughly 4,500 French troops are deployed in the region. Personnel from Estonia and helicopters from the United Kingdom support the Barkhane force, and Denmark is to send two helicopters and up to 70 troops in December.
Barkhane focuses activity in insurgent-hit Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, and troops work alongside other international operations, including the roughly 14,000-strong MINUSMA United Nations stabilization mission in Mali, and the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S), the long-planned 4,500-strong joint counter-terrorism force comprises troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
“Weakening armed terrorist groups remains a principal mission of the Barkhane force,” the release said, noting that this “goes hand in hand” with the rise of the armed forces of the G5 Sahel states “so that they eventually acquire the capacity to independently ensure their security.”
France spearheaded the G5 Sahel initiative, but it has been undermined by lack of training, poor equipment and a shortage of funds. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has long-called for regular U.N. funding for the FCG5S, but the U.S. has pushed back against direct funding, preferring instead bilateral funding for individual states.
France has begun asking its European partners to send special forces to the Sahel region to assist and improve the basic training for local forces. France is hoping to form a new Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force under French command.