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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mali claims death of terrorist who helped lead deadly ambush in Niger

The Liptako-Gourma region, which straddles Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, seen from the sky on the Malian side, Feb. 18, 2020. The West African country said it killed Abu Huzeifa, a commander in an Islamic State affiliate who was involved in a 2017 attack in neighboring Niger that killed American Green Berets and Nigerien forces..(Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

By Ruth Maclean

Mali said Monday that it had killed a high-value Islamic commander who helped lead a 2017 attack in which four American and four Nigerien soldiers were killed alongside an interpreter.

The U.S. State Department had put a $5 million bounty on the head of the commander, Abu Huzeifa — a member of an affiliate of the Islamic State — after his participation in an attack in Tongo Tongo, Niger, on American Green Berets and their Nigerien comrades.

At that time, the attack was the largest loss of American troops during combat in Africa since the “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Somalia in 1993.

In a post on social media Monday, Mali’s armed forces said that Sunday they had “neutralized a major terrorist leader of foreign nationality during a large-scale operation in Liptako” — a tri-border region that contains parts of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Officials at the U.S. State and Defense departments said Tuesday that they were aware of the report but were seeking more information.

Mali has been in crisis since 2012, when rebels and jihadis took control of swaths of its desert north. The intervention of foreign forces — led by France, which deployed thousands of troops — failed to stop the unrest.

In 2020, coup plotters overthrew Mali’s elected government, using the security crisis to justify their power grab. But since then the ruling junta has pursued the same military-first strategy that the foreign forces did, and nearly four years later, analysts say the situation is worse.

After a 10-year fight against the Islamic militants, French troops pulled out in 2022. The junta in Mali turned instead to Russian military advisers and mercenaries with the Wagner group, who were accused of committing atrocities in the course of pursuing the militants.

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