The military reported on Friday (September 8, 2023), an al-Qaida-linked insurgent strike in the troubled north of Mali resulted in the deaths of 49 civilians and 15 government soldiers in two separate attacks.
In a brief statement on the attack on a Malian military camp on Friday in the Gao region, the armed forces stated, “response and evaluation in progress.”
In a statement presented on state television, the military junta said that the strikes on Thursday (September 7, 2023), were directed at a passenger boat on the Niger River close to the city of Timbuktu and a military station in Bamba further downstream in Gao. It stated that JNIM, an umbrella coalition of armed organizations affiliated with al-Qaida, had taken responsibility for the attacks. According to a statement the group released on Friday, it also targeted the military camp.
In Mali, where the roads are bad, the Niger River is a vital route for transit.
According to the UN’s indicator of human development, Mali is the sixth least developed country in the world. 22 million people, or about half of the population, reside below the poverty line in the West African nation. The situation is worse in rural areas where fatal Islamist strikes have put subsistence farming, which is often the only viable income source for many families, in danger.
The attack on Thursday was directed at a triple-decker passenger boat close to Zarho, a hamlet located approximately 55 miles (90 kilometers) east of Timbuktu. According to the statement, the government put a stop to the attacks by killing roughly 50 attackers. In memory of the citizens and soldiers who lost their lives in the attacks, it proclaimed three days of national mourning.
According to Souleymane Dembélé, a spokesman for the Malian army, many of the boat’s passengers were unable to swim, and he speculated that some of them may have drowned as a result.
He said, “When the boat was attacked, the soldiers on board exchanged fire with the terrorists. Unfortunately, many civilians who couldn’t swim jumped into the water,”
According to a study released by the UN last month, organizations connected to Al-Qaida and the Islamic State have virtually doubled the area they control in Mali in less than a year as they take advantage of an underperforming administration and armed factions that agreed to a 2015 peace agreement.
The IS group and al-Qaida affiliates now have the opportunity “to re-enact the 2012 scenario,” according to the assessment, as a result of the peace agreement’s sluggish implementation and ongoing attacks on civilian targets.
In that year, there was a military takeover of the government, and two months later, rebels in the north established an Islamic state. With the aid of a military effort spearheaded by France, the hardline rebels were driven from power in the north, but in 2015 they relocated from the dry north to the more populous central Mali and are still active today.
An army colonel who later participated in a second coup and took office as president in June 2021 overthrew Mali’s president in an uprising in August 2020. He established connections with the Russian military and the Wagner mercenary outfit, whose leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, perished in a plane crash on August 23 in Russia.
Armed groups have been encircling Timbuktu, a legendary desert city and UNESCO World Heritage site, since the Malian army sent reinforcements to the area in late August. The rebels are obstructing the delivery of necessities to the desert metropolis.
According to a study released in August by the humanitarian organization of the United Nations, more than 30,000 residents have left the city and a neighbouring area.
According to Whitney Elmer, deputy regional director for West and Central Africa at Mercy Corps, which has been helping those in need, the number of people in Mali who are impacted by the violent attacks and in need of humanitarian aid has increased by 17% over the past year to more than 8.8 million, with one million of them needing immediate food and health assistance. “The situation is getting worse, and it is difficult to see things improving anytime soon,” Elmer remarked.
MINUSMA, a 17,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, is getting ready to leave the country at the government’s request when the horrific strikes take place. Up to the end of the year, the pullout is expected to be finished.
Peacekeepers were deployed by the U.N. in 2013, and with more than 300 personnel fatalities, MINUSMA has emerged as the most deadly U.N. mission in the world.
In the unstable Sahel area of West Africa, growing insecurity in Mali has exacerbated existing instability. The military promised to put an end to the extremist violence in the two coups since 2020.