Soldiers rampaging through villages in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared at least 199 people between February and April 2020, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published June 10. Some of the killings amount to extrajudicial executions and among the victims are internally displaced persons. The briefing, "'They Executed Some and Brought the Rest with Them': Civilian Lives at risk in the Sahel," calls on the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to put an end to the impunity by their security forces, and to ensure that military operations are in conformity with human rights and international humanitarian law. In Mali and Burkina Faso, where the situation amounts to a "non-international armed conflict," the deliberate killings of unarmed civilians by security forces could meet the qualification of war crimes.
More than a thousand people are on the run following a brutal attack on a camp for refugees and displaced persons in western Niger on May 30. Three were killed and several others wounded as over 50 gunmen on motorbikes swarmed into the camp at Intikane, Tahoua region, some 70 kilometers from the Malian border. The camp housed some 20,000 refugees from Mali and an additional 15,000 internally displaced persons from within Niger, including many ethnic Tuaregs, who have fled fighting in their own communities. The dead were identified as two Malian refugees and a local leader of the Intikane host community. In addition to killing the three men, the assailants torched food supplies and other aid. They also destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water station and pipes—cutting off communication and the water supply to the displaced population and host community. Around 1,100 people who fled the attack have now arrived at the village of Telemces, 27 kilometers from Intikane, and are in urgent need of water, food and other assistance.
Security forces in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have been accused in a rising toll of extrajudicial killings committed in the context of their battle against jihadist groups in the Sahelian region. In Mali, soldiers allegedly conducted 101 executions, 32 forced disappearances, and 32 cases of torture in the first three months of the year, the UN Mission in Mali reported—a significant increase over the last quarter of 2019.
The French-backed military campaign against Islamist militants in Niger is claiming victories against the insurgency that has mounted in the country since 2015. Niger's Defense Ministry said in a statement Feb. 20 that over the past month, "120 terrorists have been neutralized," a presumed euphemism for killed. The statement said there had been no losses among Nigerien or French troops, and that vehicles and bomb-making equipment had been seized. The operation has centered on the Tillabéri region near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, where a state of emergency has been in place for two years.
At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations Jan. 13, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region's growing militarization. Sahel analysts also questioned the lack of engagement with non-military solutions and the political conflicts underlying the violence. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel.
At least 25 Malian soldiers are dead and more than 60 others missing after two assaults on bases in central Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso. On Sept. 30, jihadist forces simultaneously targeted the Malian army base in Mondoro and the G5 Sahel force camp at Boulikessi. The G5 Sahel group includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, and receives logistical support from the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Malian officials say the insurgents used "heavy weapons" in the assaults, and that at least 15 militants were killed. Local reports indicate the militants were able to briefly hold the bases and capture large amounts of weapons and equipment. Mali has now launched a joint operation with Burkina Faso and French forces in the region to hunt down the militants.
A settlement of semi-nomadic Fulani herders was attacked in Mali Jan. 1, with at least 33 residents slain and several homes set aflame. Survivors said the attackers were traditional Dogon hunters, known as dozos. The army was rushed to Koulogon village in central Mopti region to control the situation following the massacre. But the perpetrators may have actually been assisted by the armed forces. Dogon residents of the area have formed a self-defense militia, known as Dana Amassagou (which translates roughly as "hunters in God's hands"), to prevent incursions by jihadists from Mali's conflicted north into the country's central region. The militia is said to have received weapons and training from the official armed forces. However, driven by conflicts over access to land and shrinking water resources, the militia has apparently been attacking local Fulani villages. Hundreds are said to have been killed in clashes between Dogon and Fulani over the past year. A Senegalese rapid reaction force under UN command was deployed to Mopti last year in response to the mounting violence. (All India Radio, Middle East Online, Jan. 2; Al Jazeera, BBC News, Jan. 1; IRIN, Sept. 4)
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."