By Bakari Gueye
The Mauritanian military last week launched air strikes on an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) base in Mali’s Wagadou forest.
“Our national armed forces have destroyed enemy elements who were preparing to launch an attack on our territory,” the military command in Nouakchott said in an October 20th statement. “The attack was planned on the basis of very specific military intelligence, and led to the destruction of two vehicles packed with terrorists.”
The army suffered no losses and was working to “assess the damage inflicted on the enemy and to secure the area to guard against any consequences”, according to the statement.
One of Mauritania’s most wanted terrorists, Téyib Ould Sidi Ali, was killed in the Thursday operation, a military source told Magharebia on the condition of anonymity.
“The army recently spotted movements by this terrorist and his comrades who were involved in a lot of activities across the borders,” the source added. “Their movements within the Wagadou forest were being closely monitored, and they were preparing a new operation against Mauritania. That terrorist was killed in a raid by the air force.”
AQIM confirmed Téyib’s death but said that he had been killed in a car accident.
“The attack was in preparation for a long time,” terrorism specialist Rachid Ould Ahmed said. “For a few days now, there has been talk of an imminent attack on AQIM positions, supported by French forces. In the end, it was members of the Special Intervention Group (GSI) who conducted the offensive with the support of three aircraft from Nema.”
According to military affairs expert Sidi Mouloud, there are about 300 AQIM fighters around the Wagadou forest and they have at least 48 vehicles and two lorries. The terrorists also possess a number of arms caches, the analyst added.
“The threat to Mauritania from AQIM is a real one,” Sidi Moulou said. “For a number of days, the Mauritanian security forces have been on the hunt for three fighters who slipped in across the eastern border, including one suicide bomber.”
The army remains on the alert in the east of the country, along the border with Mali, he added. “This is why, following the latest attack, the city of Bassiknou, located not far from the theatre of operations and home to a major military base, is under tight security,” Sidi Mouloud said.
This is the second attack of its kind to be carried out by the Mauritanian army. Last June, the military conducted a raid in the same area of the Wagadou forest, killing fifteen terrorists. Two soldiers were killed in the attack.