Mali: Complex attack against French forces in Menaka

ISGS militants aboard motorbikes in the Mali-Niger borderlands

Around 1300 local time on Sunday afternoon, an attempted complex attack targeted French forces in the area of Akabar, Menaka Region, not far from the border with Niger. French forces reportedly spotted and opened fire against a Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED) (Ouest-France), triggering a premature detonation, local sources testified about the sound of a heavy explosion echoing across the plains of rural Menaka. Enfilading small arms fire by a group of an estimated fifteen presumed Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants aboard motorbikes followed the detonation. Around fifteen French soldiers were wounded, mostly minor injuries, however, two were severely wounded, necessitating a strategic medical evacuation to France. The attack came as the French forces set up a security post in the area. Mirage 2000 fighter jets and a quick reaction force (QRF) deployed didn’t manage to intercept the bikers (RFI).

Yesterday’s attack constitutes the second SVBIED attack carried out by presumed ISGS militants targeting French forces. On January 11, 2018, an explosives-laden pickup truck struck a Barkhane patrol between Menaka and In-Delimane, wounding three military medics. Furthermore, it’s the fourth complex attack involving the use of SVBIEDs in the past seven weeks, the three preceding were all claimed by Jama’ah Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM). Thus, the deployment of suicide tactics is occurring at a pace not witnessed since in the wake of the French intervention
back in 2013 with Operation Serval.

During the first fortnight of February, ISGS and JNIM conducted what strongly appeared to be a coordinated campaign against the local militias of the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) and the Tuareg Imghad and Allies Self-defence Group (GATIA), armed groups known to cooperate with the French forces. Attacks and clashes took place in Tidimbawen, Inahar, Taringuite, In-Agar, and Talataye, the coalition lost around forty men with others injured, a considerable toll within such a short time frame. Moreover, JNIM announced for the first time in public to be at war with MSA and GATIA by officially claiming responsibility for two attacks targeting the two movements which the group described as “agents of the crusaders”, as well as previous attacks in the area, without providing further details.

While militant groups recently have suffered multiple tactical defeats and lost senior commanders (MENASTREAM), militancy is expanding in the subregion (The Conversation), notably in Burkina Faso where new fronts have opened up in the eastern and southwestern parts of the country since the beginning of last year (ACLED). A more recent development is that militants are gaining ground in the Centre-Nord Region.

In the context of militant expansion and adaptation, there are several discernible trends. The proliferation and spread of IED and landmine usage as seen in previously untouched areas such as Torodi and Ayorou in Niger’s Tillabery Region, and across several provinces in Burkina’s Est Region. Another tendency is the increasingly frequent use of explosives to destroy public infrastructure including administrative buildings, schools, and security facilities. An additional aspect is innovation, reflected by the modus operandi of booby-trapping corpses as seen on two occasions near Diankabou, Mali, and near Djibo, Burkina Faso. Part of the adaptation process is that JNIM and ISGS are increasingly melting together in order to consolidate ranks, sharing objectives and adversaries.