France has announced the death of a top jihadist leader in Mali as it sought to reassure the West African nation of European support in the fight against militant bloodshed.
French troops killed Moroccan Ali Maychou of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) in Mali last month, Defence Minister Florence Parly told AFP aboard a government plane on Tuesday as she returned from an official visit to the region.
He was “the second most-wanted terrorist in the Sahel, including by the Americans”, after GSIM”s number one Iyad Ag Ghaly, she said.
Comprising several jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the GSIM has claimed responsibility for the biggest attacks in the Sahel since its official launch in 2017.
Ag Ghaly is a Tuareg Malian who has been involved in militancy for nearly three decades.
Mali”s army has been struggling to contain the Islamist insurgency despite help from France, African neighbours and the United Nations.
A string of deadly assaults has underscored the fragility of a region where jihadist violence has claimed hundreds of lives.
In the latest attack, claimed by Islamic State-allied militants, gunmen on Friday shot dead 49 Malian troops at an army base near the border with Niger.
Over the weekend, two more Malian soldiers and a French soldier were killed.
France, whose 4,500-strong Barkhane force has been in the Sahel since 2014, has been trying to convince European partners to boost military assistance.
Earlier Tuesday, Parly acknowledged the security situation was “clearly difficult” but said France was nearing a breakthrough in the talks.
“By 2020, special forces from European countries will be deployed in Mali alongside the French special forces to pass on exceptional know-how” to Mali”s army, Parly said during a visit to the northern city of Gao.
She added that around a dozen countries had been approached to join the unit — to be named “Takuba”, which means “sabre” in the Tuareg language — and had received encouraging replies.
Participation is conditional on votes in national parliaments but Parly said she was “optimistic”.
Efforts to boost the European security presence in the region comes as continuing attacks have raised questions over the ability of the Malian army and its foreign backers to take control of the situation, as well as protests against international forces.