The Malian army indicated Thursday evening that a large convoy of its forces had progressed to the surroundings of Anéfis, a stopover towards the strategic town of Kidal, stronghold of the Tuareg separatist rebellion which has taken up arms again against the central state.
A senior leader of the rebellion assured that the army had not reached Anefis, but was surrounded 11 km away.
The column broke a defensive curtain made up of trenches 10 km south of Anefis, the army said on social networks. She claimed to have destroyed several pick-ups and to have inflicted “very significant” losses on her adversaries.
“I deny the entry of the FAMA (Malian Armed Forces)/Wagner convoy to Anéfis. They are rather surrounded 11 km away,” said on social networks, Attaye Ag Mohamed, a head of the Coordination of Movements of the 'Azawad (CMA), an alliance of predominantly Tuareg armed groups.
After rising up against the central state in 2012, these groups signed a peace agreement with it in 2015 but have just resumed hostilities in August.
A Malian army convoy made up of dozens of vehicles and armoured vehicles left Gao on Monday towards Kidal. It has been under attack ever since.
The column of vehicles advances slowly and fuels speculation about its destination and objectives. An offensive on the rebel bases in the Kidal region could be a turning point after a decade of conflict, as attacks by separatist groups and jihadists from the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), affiliated with Al -Qaeda, are increasing against the Malian army camps in the north and centre of the country.
Groups affiliated with the Islamic State organization also continue to operate, mainly in the east. The Tuareg rebellion claimed earlier Thursday to have stopped the advance of the convoy and to have shot down an army plane in Tabankort, south of Anéfis.
The assertions of all the protagonists are difficult to verify in these remote areas. Access to independent sources in the context of hostilities and military rule is complicated.
Anéfis is located approximately 110 km south of Kidal.