Mali to maintain support for French troops amid threats

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Mali to maintain support for French troops amid threatsIn a statement Friday, the head of the country’s National Transition Council Malick Diaw vowed to provide support to all the partners who work alongside Mali in the fight against terrorism.

This came amid concerns of heightened anti-French sentiment in the country hosting the anti-terror Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region, particularly after a coalition of al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups claimed responsibility for a recent attack that injured six French soldiers deployed in Mali as part of the operation.

The militant Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) released a statement on its Al-Zallaqa platform, days after the attack on Jan. 8.

The group laid claim on a suicide bombing and rocket attack in retaliation for an alleged French bombing on a wedding in the central town of Bounti on Jan. 3. The French army has rejected the allegation.

The statement was verified by the SITE intelligence platform which tracks the online activities of extremist organizations.

Following days of rumors and conflicting reports that the strike targeted local civilians, France confirmed on Jan. 7 that fighter planes dropped bombs on a gathering of at least 40 members of armed terror groups.

Defense Minister Florence Parly reiterated that the strike “eliminated several dozen” militants.

“There was neither a marriage, nor women nor children. It was men, exclusively,” she told France Inter radio station. “You can say lots of things […] These are facts, exact, proven, cross-checked, certified.”

However, local groups like Tabital Pulaaku Mali Youth, a local Fulani tribal association, provided the names of 19 civilians allegedly killed in the strike, as well as seven more who had been injured, maintaining that they had been attending a wedding and demanding an independent investigation by international agencies into the operation.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, operating in Mali were verified to be treating injured civilians.

The JNIM rejected the French and the Malian statements that the strike targeted armed terrorists and insisted that “drones” indiscriminately attacked a wedding party, killing and injuring dozens of men, women and children.

Amidst a lack of specific data and evidence, the strike appears to have exacerbated anti-French sentiment in Mali and raised additional questions about the presence of the French military.

The JNIM said it had carried out two retaliatory attacks to “avenge the killing of innocents” — a rocket attack on Barkhane and MINUSMA forces in Amachach, 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Kidal. And the suicide attack that injured six French soldiers between Boni and Manduro in Arbanda, which borders Burkina Faso.

It released the photographs of bomber Abdul Aziz al-Ansari, who detonated his vehicle.

In the statement, it accused the French presence of seeking to protect the interests of major corporations such as “Total, Areva, and others, and not to help the Malians, achieve advancement and economic development, or show concern for their lives.”

The JNIM warned the French army to withdraw from the West African country, threatening it with more severe and violent attacks.

Around 5,100 French troops are deployed in the Sahel region under Operation Barkhane to fight terror groups.

Since the end of December, the French presence has increasingly come under attack — five soldiers were killed and six injured — prompting defense officials to evaluate its military strategy and reconsider reducing the number of troops.

[Photo: Malian people stage protest against France at the Independence Square during the 60th anniversary of Mali gaining independence from France in Bamako, Mali on September 22, 2020. Photographer: Stringer/AA]

By Shweta Desai