The death of Aqmi leader Abdelmalek Droukdal in northern Mali during a French operation is “a fine result” but “does not solve the Sahel problem”, says a specialist in the region.
He was one of the most important leaders of the Sahelo-Saharan Islamist nebula for twenty years, the death of the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi), the Algerian AbdelmalekDroukdal, is a “kick in” the “jihadist ant” whose influence is yet to come. has not been determined.
Everything was very fast on Wednesday evening, June 3, in the Oued (river bottom) area of Ourdjane, two kilometers south of the village of Talhandak, in the vast desert at the far end of Mali.
The circumstances of the operation
Wadi is located 80 km east of Tessalit when the crow flies and 20 km from the Algerian border, and hosts “a meeting” between Aqmi executives, according to a local source interviewed by AFP. This wadi, far from the housing, is a place where the animals from the breeders in the area drink, according to the same source.
Early in the evening, “between 6pm and 9pm” (local time and GMT), the AFP told a resident, “there was a strike and fighting” in this wadi. He says: a strike against a vehicle, “followed by the intervention of half a dozen helicopters and men on the ground.”
Among the jihadist tests: AbdelmalekDroukdal (also spelled Droukdel), the leader of Aqmi, but also, according to French general staff, ToufikChaib, “a highly ranked Aqmic officer responsible for the coordination and propaganda of this terrorist organization”.
Another “jihadist preferred to surrender without fighting” and was taken into custody, Colonel Barbry says. The resident develops the same balance sheet: two dead and one prisoner.
The Talhandak area, a crossroads for road transport that sometimes waits there for several weeks to open the border with Algeria, “is a core trajectory for migrant smuggling” in the Sahara, according to a member of the expert group of “UN in Mali joined by AFP.
I congratulate and thank everyone who has made it possible and carried out these daring operations, which seriously strike these terrorist groups. Our forces, in collaboration with their G5 Sahel partners, will continue to track them relentlessly.
– Florence Parly (@florence_parly) June 5, 2020
What are the consequences of the struggle against the jihadist Sahel?
This operation, conducted with intelligence from the United States, according to the US Army, is a “kick in the anthill” jihadist, explains AFP DenisTull, specialist in West Africa at the IRSEM (Institute of Strategic Research for the Military School) in Paris.
But he believes “we will not solve the problems just by cutting heads. It is very good to neutralize some leaders, which will weaken the structures to some extent but we have seen for other reasons that decapitating the piles was never enough.”
As AbdelmalekDroukdal is far from being the only jihadist leader in the Sahel: the region, which has been mourned since 2012 by violence that continues to worsen, is the area of activity for several jihadist groups.
First is the support group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, or JNIM according to its initials in Arabic), linked to Al-Qaeda, of which Aqmi is a member. This alliance formed in 2017 also brings together other groups, the most important of which are Ansar Dine, led in northern Mali by IyadAgGhaly, and katiba Macina, founded in the center of the country by AmadouKoufa.
“It doesn’t solve the Sahel problem”
In the so-called “three borders” zone between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, another group is very present: the Islamic State of the Grand Sahara (EIGS, affiliated with IS), led by Adnan Abou Walid Sahraoui.
For many months, violence has concentrated in this region of the three borders, in the center of Mali and in eastern Burkina Faso. “On the ground, today, the groups that act the most (those from Koufaet de Sahraoui, editor’s note) are not under the control of Rukdel,” notes IbrahimMaïga, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Bamako.
“The rebellious position will be maintained by these groups, although Rukdelleur’s death shows that no one is certain that Barkhane can hit their ranks,” he added.
“It is a beautiful result” but “it does not solve the Sahel problem”, summarizes an expert on anti-terrorism in France interviewed by AFP, on condition of anonymity.
Because these problems are legion: recurring attacks often with a community dimension – at least 26 villagers were still killed Friday in central Mali – political problems – suspicions of embezzlement in Niger, growing competition for power in Mali – and allegations of atrocities against the national armies which multiplies. “Everything that can overshadow this death,” observes IbrahimMaïga.