Sahel: five questions about the killing of the head of the Islamic State group in the Great Sahara by French forces

“This is another great success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel.” Late in the evening of Wednesday, September 15, Emmanuel Macron announced on Twitter the death of one of the Sahel’s most powerful terrorists, the head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group, Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui.

>> DIRECT. Sahel: The fight against the Islamic State group in the Great Sahara “continues” after “a decisive blow”, promises Florence Parly

The latter was killed in August by French forces engaged in Operation Barkhane after an attack carried out on the common borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

1What is the Islamic State in the Great Sahara?

EIGS was created in May 2015 by Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui. This armed jihadist group is considered, with the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated with al-Qaeda, responsible for the majority of attacks in the “three borders” region, a vast space with vague contours that stretch out by Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

EIGS carried out deadly attacks on soldiers, but also civilians, recalled Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly during a press conference on Thursday.

“We estimate that the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) group is responsible for the deaths of 2,000 to 3,000 civilians since 2013, most of them Muslims.”

Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces

during a press conference

Eight soldiers, including four American special forces and four Nigerians, were targeted in a deadly attack in October 2017. They were killed in an ambush in Tongo Tongo, near Mali, in southwestern Niger. EIGS also carried out a series of attacks on military bases in Mali and Niger in late 2019.

More recently, on August 9, 2020, in Niger, the head of EIGS ordered the murder of six French aid workers and their Nigerian guide and driver. This attack against members of the NGO Acted aroused great emotion in France and Niger, which was then classified in the red zone, ie, “formally discouraged” to travelers, with the exception of the capital Niamey, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France.

twoWhy was Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui a priority target?

Self-proclaimed emir of the Sahelian branch of ISIS, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi had been designated as a priority enemy in the Sahel, during the G5 Sahel summit in Pau (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), in January 2020.

Born in the 1970s in Western Sahara, Adnan Abou Walid Al-Sahraoui was member of the Saharawi independence movement Polisario Front. He then moved to Mali around 2010 where he radicalized and participated in the creation of the Movement for Singularity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), an Islamic group close to al-Qaeda., Report The world.

A dissident, he eventually founded his own group, EIGS, in 2015 and became the first jihadist leader in the Sahel to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group. Hunted by the soldiers of the Barkhane force, he was an essential target. “It literally sowed terror for years in the Sahel, especially in this region of the three borders between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso”, remembered journalist Omar Ouahmane, Radio France correspondent for Africa, in France Inter (2 minutes), Thursday.

Franceinfo’s guest, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, explained Thursday thatAdnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi I was “The origin of the massacres and terror. It’s good news that this neutralization was a bit of ‘enemy number 1’.”

3What do we know about the circumstances of his death?

“Adsnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui, the head of the EIGS, succumbed to injuries ​​inflicted by an Operation Barkhane attack in August 2021″, said Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly during her press conference.

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She also remembered that the death of “Islamic State number one in the Sahel” came after “eighteen months of constant effort “ against this terrorist organization “which is the emanation of Daesh in the Sahel”.

The Barkhane Force “it managed to identify several places of interest where [le chef de l’EIGS] would likely stay hidden, thanks to a long-term intelligence maneuver and thanks to multiple operations to capture fighters near Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahraoui, ” she detailed. In July, Florence Parly announced the death or capture of several high-ranking EIGS executives by force Barkhane and his partners.

“In mid-August, we decided to launch an operation targeting these locations, it is in this context that air strikes were carried out and one of them hit its target”, specified the minister.

4What is the impact of this operation on this terrorist group?

In the wake of the presidential announcement, the Minister of Armed Forces welcomed “this long-term hunt” conducted by military and intelligence officers. “This is a decisive blow against this terrorist group. Our fight continues, “ she pointed out on Twitter.

During her press conference, Florence Parly claimed that the death ofAdnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui wore a decisive blow to the Daesh’s command of the Sahel and its cohesion. Because the EIGS will have a hard time replacing their emir with another figure of their stature. “

“This group is beheaded in their organization. It is now important, especially in Niger, that state actors can retake land that has been abandoned and left behind. [au] EI Group “, commented Jean-Yves Le Drian on franceinfo.

5What are France’s goals in the Sahel now?

The announcement of the death of the EIGS chief comes as France reorganizes its troops on Sahel terrain. Operation Barkhane, France’s largest overseas military operation launched seven years ago in the Sahel and in which 50 Frenchmen lost their lives, is expected to end in a few months.

Emmanuel Macron announced in June a reduction of the French presence in the region in favor of a more rigid device, redirected towards counterterrorism operations and combat support to the local armies, around an international alliance involving Europeans.

Thus, the number of French troops deployed in the Sahel is expected to increase from more than 5,000 soldiers today to 2,500 or 3,000 by 2023, at the end of a vast reorganization begun in recent weeks.

This withdrawal makes the Malians fear the worst, that they fear the resumption of power by the jihadists in certain regions, in a scenario similar to that of Afghanistan. However, Florence Parly assured on Thursday that “We are not leaving Mali, we are adapting our military system. Our fight continues.”

Even so, this news comes in a tense context between Paris and the junta in power of Bamako, which intends to sign a contract with the sulphurous Russian paramilitary company Wagner. The deployment of these mercenaries would be “incompatible” with the maintenance of French troops in Mali, warned Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday.

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