On Friday, at least 54 Malian soldiers were killed after jihadists loyal to the Islamic State (colloquially referred to as the ‘Islamic State in the Greater Sahara’) assaulted their base near the borders with Niger. The attack marks the Islamic State’s deadliest operation inside Mali to date.
According to Malian officials, the military base in In-Delimane in the northern Menaka region, came under sustained mortar fire before men on motorcycles rushed the perimeter.
Al Jazeera has also reported that the Islamic State utilized three suicide bombers during the raid, though this was not confirmed by the jihadist group itself.
The jihadist forces quickly withdrew from the base after briefly occupying it, according to Malian officials. The Malian army retook control over the base yesterday, according to French outlet RFI.
The Islamic State, which claimed the operation as part of its West Africa Province, stated that “clashes with various weapons resulted in the destruction of upwards of 70 members [of the Malian army] and the wounding of dozens of others.”
In another statement released via its Amaq News channel, the Islamic State utilized a previously unseen photo presumably from Friday’s battle. Though as of the time of publishing, no photos or videos from this raid have been released.
While yesterday, the Islamic State also claimed an IED on French forces also in In-Delimane. This bombing was confirmed by French media as one French soldier was reported killed in the ambush.
The In-Delimane area of Menaka is one of the Islamic State’s strongholds in the region and the general location for many of its operations.
Friday’s assault is one of the deadliest jihadist strikes inside Mali in recent years. The majority of the Islamic State’s offensives inside Mali have been relegated to assassinations and assaults on rival Tuareg factions and IEDs or small ambushes on Malian or French forces.
However, the group’s operations have expanded in their scope and capabilities this year. In May, at least 28 Nigerien soldiers were killed by Islamic State gunmen near Tongo Tongo close to the borders with Mali.
French media reported that the jihadists demonstrated a high degree of sophistication in that ambush compared to many of the group’s previous operations.
Friday’s attack also comes only one month after al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) killed dozens of Malian soldiers in two attacks in central Mali.
It is clear that while JNIM is the dominant jihadist actor in the region, the Islamic State’s men have been able to expand into conducting high-profile attacks in the Sahel thereby worsening an already perilous security situation.