Caitlin Dearing Scott, MAC
March 18, 2014
Last week, Malian military officials confirmed that Oumar Ould Hamaha, the spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) was killed in French airstrikes on March 4 and 5 in the Kidal region.
Abou Walid Sahroui, a former ally of most-wanted Sahel terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was also reportedly killed in the strike along with 12 other AQIM fighters.
The announcement of these killings is a significant victory for counterterrorism efforts in the region, as Ould Hamaha played a key role in various regional terrorist movements over the past decade.
As a Maghrebia article notes, he joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2001 as a lieutenant of Belmokhtar and was a prominent figure in Ansar al-Din’s takeover of Timbuktu and Gao in 2012.
These two high-profile killings were among many that have taken place during the last few weeks.
According to Maghrebia, an AQIM leader in Timbuktu and Kidal was killed by French troops days before and two AQIM fighters from Mauritania were killed that same week. And just this weekend, the Algerian defense ministry announced that seven AQIM terrorists were killed near the Tunisian border, including Debbar Abdelkamel, a battalion commander.
These victories are the result of regional efforts, supported by France and other key international actors.
In the case of the Ould Hamaha killing, AQIM fighters were spotted by French forces operating US-made Reaper drones, based in Niger, and airstrikes were carried out using Chad-based Mirage 2000 fighters and Tiger helicopters from Mali.
Though it is clear that regional cooperation is producing these results in eliminating terrorists, the killings also reveal the extent of the security challenges in the region and the continuing need for ever more cooperation to confront them.
It is not clear how easily these leaders will be replaced—nor how many terrorists remain in the region. And in any event, the case of Algeria has shown that killing terrorists does not kill terrorism.
All the more reason to continue to enhance counterterrorism cooperation in the region.