France reports major security operation in central Mali

France reported yesterday that its forces completed a nearly three-week long security operation in central Mali’s Gourma region alongside the Malian military. The campaign targeted constituent groups of al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and reportedly left at least 30 jihadists dead.

At least 700 French troops and another 150 from the Malian military took part in the mission, while Burkinabe troops reportedly deployed along the border to stop fleeing jihadists.

According to the French statement, the first phase of the offensive began on March 29 when Mirage jets and Tiger helicopters struck targets belonging to the US-designated terrorist group Ansaroul Islam in the Fulsare forest on the borders with Burkina Faso. The Fulsare forest and its surrounding areas have long been utilized as a jihadist hangout.

A ground operation comprised of French and Malian forces then conducted search and destroy and reconnaissance actions in and near the forest. The joint force was reportedly able to recover “small arms, ammunition, RPG’s, explosives, IEDs, and vehicles,” in the operation. No jihadists were reported killed during this phase.

However, it was during this phase that a French soldier, identified as a military doctor, was killed by an IED. JNIM claimed the IED in a later statement, but identified the area in which the attack took place as Menaka and not near the Fulsare.

The second phase of the joint French-Malian campaign began on April 7 in the Serma forest with further airstrikes against JNIM’s Katibat Serma. A Reaper drone and Tiger helicopter also reportedly provided support and cover fire for a subsequent ground operation against the jihadist outfit.

At least 30 jihadists were reportedly killed in this phase, according to the French statement. Additionally, “a dozen motorcycles, weapons and ammunition, a large number of IED components, and numerous resources confirming the strong activity of this terrorist camp and its central role in the functioning of Katibat Serma.”

Katibat Serma, one of JNIM’s battalions that operates in central Mali, is closely allied to Ansaroul Islam, a Burkinabe affiliate of JNIM. Katibat Serma, and the more well-known JNIM battalion, Katibat Macina, have long supported Ansaroul Islam with weapons, support, and training.