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Russian Wagner Group Mercenaries Fight Al-Qaeda Jihadists in Mali
On August 15th, the French government announced the withdrawal of the last of its soldiers in Mali who had been a part of Operation Barkhane. The Sahel country's government is facing serious security challenges from jihadist insurgents that have been fighting it since 2012. However, the French withdrawal does not mean the Malian government plans to face the threat alone. Bamako has contracted the Russian Wagner Group to help in its fight against jihadists.
Wagner Group is a private military contractor (PMC), although researchers have stated there is no single registered business with that name. Rather, it has been described as a network of businesses and groups of mercenaries linked logistically and otherwise.
Wagner Group deployed to Mali in December 2021 in order to train local forces and security services to face armed insurgents. It is possible their mission in Mali also aims to protect the current military government from coups like that which brought it to power, all while furthering Moscow's geopolitical goals like gaining mineral and financial concessions. The PMC has been deployed in multiple African countries, and in exchange for the previously mentioned benefits, Russia provides those governments with paramilitary, combat, intelligence, and other security services.
Currently, Wagner Group is in Mali fighting jihadist organizations like the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM). This militant group has already inflicted losses on the Russian mercenaries. Back in April, JNIM claimed to have captured a Wagner contractor after clashes in the Mora village. This week, JNIM said they killed four Wagner operators in an ambush in central Mali. The incident took place in the Bandiagara area when a team of Wagner contractors on motorcycles headed out to conduct reconnaissance around the nearby mountains. The jihadists apparently ambushed them along the way.
Wagner has been accused of committing war crimes. For example, back in June, the group was accused of carrying out a massacre in the Bankas area, in Central Mali, while pretending to be jihadists. Also, back in April, Wagner Group was alleged to have carried out another massacre along with the Malian Army in the village of Moura. These two incidents are said to have taken place between March 27 and April 1, and between 200 and 400 people were reportedly killed in the combined massacres. The accused denied the allegations, stating instead that they only killed terrorists.
Among the clashes that have taken place between the Wagner Group and the jihadists includes the aforementioned recent fighting in Segou in April during which insurgents say they captured a mercenary. In the same month, the jihadists repelled air landing operations in the mountains of Banjagra, 70 kilometers from Sifari. In July, jihadist fighters claimed to have looted weapons and ammunition from Wagner mercenaries.
With French and Barkhane Forces gone, it is likely Wagner Group will have to shoulder a heavier load. The Malian government faces quite serious security threats and will lean on Wagner Group as it tries to stabilize the situation using alternative means.