Islamist insurgents have taken control of more land in eastern Mali in recent days, killing hundreds of civilians and driving thousands of others from their homes, according to local Malian officials and analysts.
The gains made by the militants show how hard Mali is working to fill the void left by the withdrawal of French and other European forces. At the same time, Mali’s relations with neighboring Niger have deteriorated, making it impossible to conduct joint military operations close to the borders of Niger and Burkina Faso.
In the Menaka region, where Malian forces took control of a French military camp in June, there have been reports of intense clashes between Tuareg separatists and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) organization. View More
Although the offensive began in March, Heni Nsaiba, a senior researcher at the United States-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), claimed that France’s withdrawal “created a vacuum and lifted a lot of pressure.”
According to ACLED data, hundreds have died since March, mostly civilians as jihadists have fought their way into Menaka and the neighboring Gao region.
According to the U.N. Secretary General’s report to the Security Council, which was published on Thursday, fighters with ties to the Islamic State are the main perpetrators of that violence.
Islamist extremists seized control of the rural Ansongo district this month, close to the Niger border, according to a local official and pro-government militia.
The towns of Menaka and Gao, which are home to another military camp and where Malian troops are waging their insurgency with the aid of mercenary Russian fighters, have seen thousands of civilians flee.
This month, a coalition of ethnic Tuareg militia groups mobilized their forces, according to a statement, to stop mass deaths, looting, and economic ruin in Menaka and the surrounding areas.
Over 25,500 displaced civilians have taken refuge in Menaka City, where the U.N. has also increased peacekeeping patrols, placing pressure on food, water, farming, and medical supplies.
Since 2012, when Islamist extremists seized control of a Tuareg uprising in the north, Mali has experienced unrest.
In 2013, France stepped in to assist Malian forces in driving them out. However, since then, the militants have regrouped and moved throughout the Sahel and even further south toward coastal states, endangering both those states’ political stability and western interests in the area.
France moved its counter-insurgency operations to Niger this year as a result of growing hostility between Western countries and military officials who took control in a coup in 2020.
Other European nations have pulled their soldiers out of the country, frequently blaming Mali’s association with Russian mercenaries.
Malian military and the few remaining international forces supporting them in Menaka and Gao are becoming more and more constrained to the towns where their bases are located.
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