On July 29, French forces of Operation Barkhane conducted a military operation in the Tilemsi Valley, specifically in the area of Ersane near Tabankort, Gao Region. The operation was initiated by an airstrike followed by a ground assault. The operation resulted in the killing of Himama Ould Lekhweir (alt. Hamama Ould al-Khuwayyir) and at least thirteen of his associates, all Tilemsi Arabs including seven from Ould Lekhweir’s Lemhar tribe and six others from the Ladim tribe, according to tribal sources. However, the death of Ould Lekhweir was refuted by Jama’ah Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), as reported on Twitter by Mauritanian journalist Mohamed Mahmoud Abu al-Maaly. Ould Lekhweir was a former member of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and in particular the katiba (brigade) “Oussama Ben Laden”. Regardless of the confusion about Ould Lekhweir’s fate, the death toll following the operation stands at fourteen killed and at least two combatants taken prisoners.
In August 2013, MUJAO merged with Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al-Muwaqq’iun bi-Dima into Al-Mourabitoun, the merger was arranged in connection with two coordinated attacks against the Areva-operated uranium mine in Arlit and Nigerien army barracks in Agadez, Niger. Ould Lekhweir had a record of trafficking and was a close associate of late MUJAO-founder and Al-Mourabitoun emir Abderrahmane Ould El Amar (“Ahmed al-Tilemsi”). Ould Lekhweir was arrested in 2010 amidst a major counter-trafficking operation in the area of Lemzareb, Mauritania, but subsequently released.
Himama Ould Lekhweir (“Hamza al-Tabankorti”) has been described as an explosives expert and potential successor of late Al-Mourabitoun emir and JNIM co-founder Mohamed Lahbous (“Mohamed Ould Nouini”), Lahbous was a military commander who among other responsibilities directed the group’s regional operations, such as the attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast. Lahbous was killed together with several other senior JNIM commanders and fighters amidst a coordinated Barkhane operation on February 14 against targets in the areas of Tin Zaouatene, Boughessa, and Aouhou.
Moreover, this operation came in the wake of a presumed French airstrike a week ago in the southern Libyan town of Ubari, a strike which targeted the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Libya. Ramzi Mansour (“Ramzi al-Tunisi”), a senior Tunisian AQIM commander was killed in the strike. Al-Tunisi was a recruiter, trainer, and facilitator considered to be the organization’s number three in Libya, The organization’s Algerian top leader in Libya, Moussa Bourahla was killed in a previous strike on March 24, also in Ubari, for which the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced its responsibility.