French forces have killed Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), in a drone strike, the French government announced on Thursday. Al Sahroui succumbed to his wounds, suffered in a strike on a motorbike carrying two people during a French-led air and ground operation in Mali, French minister for the armed forces Florence Parly said at a press conference. The operation took place between August 17 and 22, 2021, Parly said.
He had earlier tweeted Thursday that military and intelligence agents had contributed to a “long-term hunt” for the ISIS-GS leader, which she described as a “decisive blow” for the group.
“This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” President Macron tweeted. ISIS-GS was established in 2015 after al Sahraoui broke from the al Qaeda-associated al-Murabitun group — another splinter group based in Africa. In 2017, al Sahraoui claimed responsibility for the ambush of United States forces in Niger that killed four American soldiers. The US State Department designated ISIS-GS as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2018 and announced in 2019 a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of al Sahraoui. He was responsible for “cowardly and particularly deadly” attacks targeting civilians and security forces in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, according to a statement from a French presidential spokesperson. In August 2020, al Sahraoui “personally ordered” the killing of six French humanitarian workers and their driver and guide, the statement added. President Macron announced in June 2021 an end to the current French deployment in the Sahel region, Operation Barkhane, with a gradual handover to a multilateral mission. This would entail a “profound transformation” of the French military presence in the Sahel, President Macron said on June 10.
According to the French Ministry of Defense, as of September, France has 5,100 troops deployed across five countries in the Sahel region: Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. The incoming international effort will be spearheaded by the Takuba Task Force, a European military task force led by France that advises, assists, and accompanies Malian Armed Forces in the Sahel, according to the French president. The French army will constitute the “backbone” of that force, completed by special forces from European and partner countries in the region.