Sahel governments are focusing their attacks on eliminating jihadist leaders

Beheading the snake is a common strategy used by African governments when it comes to this Fight against jihadism. Every few weeks it is announced that a radical leader has been killed by the security forces of Mali, Burkina Faso or Nigeria, thereby decapitating the snake and compromising its operational capability.

The last jihadist leader killed was Hassane Idrissa Boly, a prominent commander of the Support Group for Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood (JNIM). Boly, who was eliminated along with some of his lieutenants in a battle against Burkinabe forces on February 20, He gained notoriety in 2019 for being one of those responsible for the blockade of the town of Nouna and the looting of several villages in Kossi and Banwa.. In addition, in 2020 it planned and carried out a series of attacks against civilians and members of the Burkinabe army in the Barani area. His death can be read as a severe blow to the JNIM’s operational capabilities and both the Burkinabe government and the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) announced his death on social media emphasizing victory.

Boly is not the only jihadist leader killed in recent months. The Burkinabe army also neutralized the number two of the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (EIGS), Harouna Oulel, in an air operation on January 21. Oulel exercised his influence in the so-called three-border area and was considered an operations chief of great importance for jihadist goals. Abdoul Wahab Ould Choghib, a prominent member of the EIGS, was also killed by the Malian army in fighting in Inarabane at the end of January, just like in November 2023 with his brother Alwan Ould Choghib. The death of Abdoul Wahab, who acted as a link between the EIGS and several cities in the region and was also considered one of the instigators of the massacres of civilians that have taken place in the Gao region in recent years, can be considered another Victory of the Sahelian forces against the main jihadist leaders. We should also add the death of Hamadjiré Bah, the local leader of the Katiba Macina, who was killed by the FAMA on February 14th.

However, the most prominent leader eliminated in recent weeks would be Ba’a Shuwa, leader of the Islamic State of West Africa in Nigeria and leader of numerous operations in the Lake Chad region, which connects the territories of Nigeria and Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Shuwa’s leadership began in 2021 after the region’s previous leader, Abubakar Shekau, committed suicide, and its influence extended within the Timbuktu and Alagarno axis in southern Borno, covering a wide area where jihadist attacks and their ferocity are commonplace. His end came in an airstrike by the Nigerian army.

The use of the Turkish-made Bayraktar-TB2 drones, acquired in recent years by the Malian, Nigerian and Burkinabe governments, initially facilitates the selection and subsequent destruction of jihadist leaders as key targets. However, the lack of on-site staff to assess and review targets has sometimes resulted in this Bombing of civilians accidentally, With proper operational development, drones can bomb where ground forces cannot access. Likewise, in Burkina Faso, a determined offensive is being carried out in the context of a “total war”, which has led to a drastic increase in deaths among all sectors of the population, be they jihadists and soldiers or civilians victimized by murders and massacres, both by the jihadists as well as by the Burkinabe security forces. This offensive, led by Ibrahim Traoré, leads to more frequent direct clashes between the Mujahideen and the security forces and significantly increases the possibilities of eliminating a key commander (as was the case with the death of Boly).

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Advantages and challenges

The immediate result of the snake’s beheading can be interpreted as an important operational obstacle for the jihadists. Subjects like Idrissa Boly are responsible for organizing the attacks to achieve greater military but also propaganda impact, while carrying out revenge actions for the deaths of their leaders, such as the one carried out by the JNIM on February 21 against the military camp of Niono (Mali), reflect the disorganization that comes with the elimination of the thinking head. The Niono attack then ended in failure, a disorganized retreat and the killing of dozens of jihadists by FAMA.

Apart from the juicy results that it offers in propaganda terms to the governments involved, where the military junta of the Sahel maintains its influence over the population in such actions, ten years of anti-terror struggle in the Sahel have forced an adaptation of strategies to the reality ahead Location. . In recent years it has become clear that the elimination of “senior” mujahideen does not necessarily lead to the elimination of the jihadist threat, as the recruitment mechanisms and incentives of the various armed groups allow them to quickly compensate for the losses they may have suffered. However, beheading the snake appears to be a viable alternative for African governments looking to reorganize their strategy following France’s withdrawal from the region.

Two challenges facing this strategic alternative would be, first, that jihadist groups do not take long to reorganize and look for new leadership to replace those who have fallen The intensity with which these leaders are toppled must be greater than the terrorist groups’ ability to reorganize.. On the other hand, an increase in terrorist attacks against civilian targets was observed in proportion to the deaths of the above-mentioned leaders. And second, this lack of organization, even if only temporarily, prevents jihadists from carrying out overly complex missions, such as attacks on military posts Concentration of violence on civilian targets It is an outcome (the expansion of terror) that can be achieved easily and with little risk.

The war against jihadism in the Sahel is underway, even if it is silenced by the Western media: the massacres of civilians are recorded almost weekly, fighting and attacks occur daily in the affected countries, during a campaign of destruction the foundations of jihadist leadership. In this confrontation that is crucial to the stabilization of West Africa, every action counts.

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