New European taskforce takes on Mali’s elusive militants

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ANSONGO, Mali, Oct 6 (Reuters) – When the troopers reached the top of the street, they descended from their vans and motorbikes and partially deflated the tyres to make it simpler going throughout the smooth terrain of jap Mali.

Then they rumbled onwards within the moonlight alongside a grassy path that snaked by Islamic State’s stronghold there.

“We are in an area where there have been numerous thefts of cattle recently. Remain vigilant,” mentioned a senior officer as a herd of cows slowed the convoy’s progress. “We are entering a region of armed terrorist groups.”

The troops have been a part of the Takuba Task Force, a bunch of elite troopers from throughout Europe charged with turning the tide in a decade-long Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of civilians within the Sahel, the band of arid terrain south of the Sahara Desert.

The drive can be on the centre of a political row. Takuba was established as a partial successor to Barkhane, France’s 5,000-strong counter-terrorism operation within the Sahel that French President Emmanuel Macron needs to scale back by as a lot as half. French troops are nonetheless concerned within the new mission.

Mali, nonetheless, says France is abandoning its former colony and its ruling junta is looking for a cope with Russian army contractor the Wagner Group, a transfer France is attempting arduous to dam. learn extra

WATCHING US

The troopers’ mission was a well-known one: strategy a village close to the Nigerien border undetected and uproot Islamic State-affiliated militants suspected of killing 50 civilians within the space.

The strategies have been new, nonetheless. Takuba is utilizing smaller, extra cell items with lighter tools that journey largely at night time and that commanders say higher swimsuit the battle.

Game-changing ways are sorely wanted within the Sahel, the place violent assaults throughout Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso elevated eight-fold in 2015 to 2020, in line with the United Nations. This has pushed 2 million from their properties and left swathes of territory out of governments’ management.

On the bottom in Mali, the going was robust even with motorbikes and non-armoured automobiles, mentioned a Reuters reporter who was on the Takuba mission.

The space close to the Niger River is acquainted to the militants, however to the French and Estonian troops it was a continually shifting panorama of rocky outcrops, sand, grassland and swamps.

On the second day, not removed from a village the place the troopers mentioned militants have been hiding out, heavy rain flooded their makeshift camp. The vans’ tyres have been engulfed in mud and it took three hours to get them out. The blare of their revving engines pierced the morning calm, and uncovered their place.

“Terrorists have a very developed network of informants, which we call ‘doorbells’, able to provide information on our actions,” mentioned the senior officer, who requested not be named.

“As soon as they become aware of or suspect a force in the area, they either seek to hide their weapons and blend in with the population, or to flee.”

By the time they bought to the village, there was no signal of militants. They arrested two males in possession of walkie-talkies and huddled round to decipher the voices crackling by the receiver.

“The terrorists are watching us right now,” the officer mentioned.

Reporting by Paul Lorgerie; Editing by Edward McAllister and Angus MacSwan

Malian soldiers are pictured during a patrol with soldiers from the new Takuba force near Niger border in Dansongo Circle, Mali August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie

A soldier is pictured at the headquarters of the new Takuba force in Gao, Mali August 20, 2021.  REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie

An officer from the new Takuba force talks with a Malian officer during a patrol near Niger border in Dansongo Circle, Mali August 23, 2021.  REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie