The French army killed a senior Algerian member of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) jihadist group at the end of February in northern Mali, where he was the "financial and logistical coordinator", the army announced on Monday, while it is conducting a parallel withdrawal of French forces from the country.
"On the night of 25-26 February, the (French anti-jihadist) Barkhane force carried out an operation targeting a senior AQIM official about 100km north of Timbuktu in Mali. This operation led to the neutralisation of the Algerian jihadist Yahia Djouadi, alias Abou Ammar al Jazairi," a statement said.
After being located and identified in an area known to be a refuge for groups belonging to AQIM and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated to the al-Qaeda nebula, "he was neutralised by a ground operation, supported by a Tiger reconnaissance and attack helicopter and two French drones," the statement said.
"Its neutralisation is a new and significant tactical success for the Barkhane force, which remains determined to continue the fight against armed terrorist groups, with its Sahelian, European and North American allies", despite the ongoing withdrawal of the 2,400 French troops stationed in Mali out of a total of 4,600 in the Sahel, the staff commented.
This elimination of a "historical actor in the expansion of al-Qaeda and jihadist terrorism in West Africa" also "weakens once again the Qaeda governance and deprives the GSIM led by Iyad ag Ghali of a major relay in northern Mali and in the Timbuktu area in particular," the French armies said.
Yahia Djouadi, who joined the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in 1994 and then the Islamist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), was a military adviser to the historic AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdal, who was neutralised by the French army in June 2020, according to the French military.
Appointed emir of the southern region of AQIM in 2007, then of AQIM in Libya in 2015, he moved to Mali in 2019, and "settled in the Timbuktu area, where he supported the structuring and coordinated the supply of materials to the high command of the GSIM and AQIM. He also acts as financial and logistical coordinator for the group," according to the statement.
The announcement comes as France and its European partners have just announced their military withdrawal from Mali, citing "multiple obstructions" by the Malian junta that took power in two coups in 2020 and 2021. In recent months, many reinforcements have arrived in Mali, presented by the Malian authorities as Russian instructors and by the West as mercenaries.
France, which has been present in Mali since 2013, has given itself six months to withdraw its forces from the country while continuing its targeted hunt for the main jihadist leaders. The disengagement of its troops, the equipment deployed, including hundreds of armoured vehicles, and the dismantling of bases represent a titanic logistical challenge in a deteriorating security context.
The withdrawal "is going well", the spokesman for the French general staff, Colonel Pascal Ianni, said on Monday, stressing that "150 containers left the Malian theatre last week". Paris and its partners have however assured that they want to "remain committed to the Sahel region" and "extend their support to neighbouring countries in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa", where local franchises of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (EI) threaten to spread.
Despite tactical victories in Mali, the terrain has never been truly reclaimed by the state. And the violence that started in the north in 2012 has spread to the centre and then to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, leaving thousands of civilians and soldiers dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
On Friday, a jihadist attack on a Malian army camp in the centre of the country left 27 people dead, according to an official report, and at least double that number according to several French military sources.