Actualité militaire au Niger

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malikos
Raqib Awal (رقيب أول)
Raqib Awal (رقيب أول)
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Re: Actualité militaire au Niger

Message par malikos » 07 juin 2018, 23:11

Niger Islamic State hostage: 'They want to kill foreign soldiers'
Niger
Guardian investigation sheds light on little known Isis-affiliated group that killed four US soldiers last year

Ruth Maclean
Ruth Maclean in Niamey

Tue 5 Jun 2018 05.00 BST Last modified on Tue 5 Jun 2018 21.37 BST
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Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and his followers
Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and his followers
When a team of American special forces hunting Islamic State fighters in Niger was ambushed and four of its soldiers killed, the attack last October was described as “a total tactical surprise” by the commander of US Africa Command.

Their deaths became a political scandal in Washington – where there was little awareness of US military operations in the region – and became notorious when Donald Trump, in a condolence call, told the widow of one of the dead soldiers that he “knew what he signed up for”.

Myeshia Johnson, widow of one of US soldiers killed, kisses coffin
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Myeshia Johnson, widow of US army Sgt La David Johnson, who was among the special forces soldiers killed in Niger, kisses his coffin. Photograph: Joe Skipper/Reuters
“They had never seen anything in this magnitude – numbers, mobility and training,” said US Gen Thomas Waldhauser last month, presenting the results of the Pentagon investigation into the attack, which found “individual, organisational and institutional failures” leading up to the ambush.

But the same group that attacked the US-Nigerien team near the village of Tongo Tongo, close to border with Mali, had staged many attacks, including one of similar magnitude on an outpost of Niger’s national guard almost a year earlier.

In that attack, just like in Tongo Tongo, over 100 heavily-armed men suddenly appeared on motorbikes and in vehicles. They killed six Nigerien soldiers, and took two others hostage. Only one lived to tell the tale.

US soldiers crying at tomb
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Members of the 3rd Special Forces Group, 2nd battalion, cry at the tomb of US army Sgt La David Johnson, one of the soldiers killed in the ambush. Photograph: Gaston de Cardenas/AFP/Getty Images
The Guardian has gained rare insight into the Isis-affiliated group through an interview with that soldier, who spent three months chained up as their hostage.

Abdoul Wahid, 28, talked to many of his kidnappers, who said they had no demands but just wanted to wage jihad, and spoke of wanting to kill foreign soldiers in particular. Wahid also witnessed them recruiting and training an army of children aged around 10.

After breaking the Ramadan fast in Niger’s capital Niamey last week, Wahid, off duty in a crisp short-sleeved shirt, sat in his mother’s room and described the chilly November morning in 2016 when the 17 soldiers at his post were attacked by a group of men. They were led by a skinny man called Aboubacar Chapori, also known as Petit Chapori, a key lieutenant of Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

Aboubacar Chapori
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Aboubacar Chapori, also known as Petit Chapori, a key lieutenant of the ISGS
“We shot at them until we had no bullets left,” Wahid said. “By the end, six of our men were dead, including our chief. He was shot in the head in front of all of us, and two of us were taken hostage.”

Wahid was thrown into the back of a pickup, along with his 24-year-old friend Habib Isa, and the jihadist convoy sped off. Wahid and Isa had done their training together. “We were really close,” he said.

They were driven across the dry scrub of western Niger. Wahid knew the region well and recognised where he was being taken. When they reached the Tongo Tongo area, they stopped and pulled Isa down from the pickup.

“They slit my friend’s throat. They said he was a dog,” Wahid said, maintaining his military bearing, but his voice giving way just a little. “Then they tied my hands and feet together and blindfolded me. They said: ‘You see your friend? You’re next.’”

But they kept Wahid alive. Sitting barefoot and crosslegged on his mother’s mat, Wahid demonstrated how they strung him up in the back of the pickup, his back towards the cab, arms over his head. They drove like that for two days, crossing the Malian border to join their brothers. As they sped through hamlets en route, Wahid heard villagers cry “Allahu Akbar” – Allah is great. He was deep in enemy territory, he realised.

It is not known how many members ISGS has; some analysts say less than 100. But Wahid estimated that he saw up to 600 fighters, and said they told him he had only seen half their total number.

Since the Tongo Tongo attack, Niger’s interior minister Mohamed Bazoum said the group had been significantly weakened, with only a few hundred survivors.

But according to Malian and Nigerien security sources who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, Tongo Tongo brought Sahraoui respect and money from Isis and its other affiliates, such as .


“The Tongo Tongo attack gave Abu Walid a lot of importance and support from his superiors,” one said.

Defence secretary Jim Mattis has ordered a review of US counterterrorism forces in Africa after the ambush, which could result in resources for such missions being halved over the next three years.

Little is known about ISGS. The Guardian pieced together their history by talking to intelligence, military, political and rebel sources across Niger.

Sahraoui, the leader and founder, may be a jihadist pledged to Islamic State, but his camel and motorbike-mounted militants are very different to ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Sahraoui is thought to be originally from the disputed territory of Western Sahara and spent time in Algeria before coming to Mali. After years at the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the al-Qaida-linked group al-Murabitoun, he split off to found ISGS, piggybacking on a conflict on the Niger-Mali border that had been rumbling on for decades and was ripe for exploitation.

The people he chose – nomadic Fulani herders in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua – had been feuding with the Daoussahak Tuareg of the Ménaka region in Mali for decades.

“The Tillabéri problem is an ethnic problem,” said a Nigerien intelligence officer who had worked on the region for decades. “The Fulani have a problem with the Tuareg, and jihadists profited from the situation.”

Records show that there has been fighting over access to water and pasture land since at least the 1950s, but according to several sources who witnessed the conflict evolve, it intensified in the 1990s.

Menaka, Mali: heavy machine guns recovered during an operation conducted by militants of the Azawad Salvation Movement and said to have belonged to four American soldiers killed during an ambush in the Tongo Tongo area in west Niger.
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Menaka, Mali: heavy machine guns recovered during an operation conducted by militants of the Azawad Salvation Movement and said to have belonged to four American soldiers killed during an ambush in the Tongo Tongo area in west Niger. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
An accord signed between the governments of Niger and Mali in the 90s allowed pastoralists in search of water for their animals to cross from dry Niger into Mali’s less dry Ménaka region. However, this agreement was not explained properly to people on the ground, so when Nigerien Fulani arrived with hundreds of cows in Mali, the well-armed Daoussahak Tuareg population reacted by raiding their cattle.

Because they were Nigerien, the Fulani herders had no representation in Mali, and no friends in high places to support them. They started trading cows for Kalashnikovs to protect themselves and by 2010, Daoussahak and Fulani were regularly launching bloody attacks on each others’ camps.

Then came the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya, which saw Malian Tuareg fighters from his armies return home. They brought with them arms and money, and the explosion of northern Mali as they joined forces with other rebels to create a separatist movement, the MNLA. Many Daoussahak joined them, and according to Niger’s interior minister Mohammed Bazoum, this drove young Fulani to join MUJAO – not out of a desire to wage jihad, but to protect themselves against their old enemy.

Sahraoui took some of the Fulani from MUJAO and al-Mourabitoun, but also recruited Tuareg and Arab fighters into ISGS’s ranks. To start with, they were a small group.

“Abu Walid didn’t have many men. I knew him in early 2016, and he only had four pickups then,” said the intelligence officer. In Niger’s rural regions, power is often counted in numbers of Toyota Hiluxes.

But they steadily increased their firepower, mainly through attacks on Nigerien military.

When Bazoum took the interior minister job, he sent emissaries to ask what they wanted.

“I said ‘listen, if you have political claims, or problems with the justice, the administration, the state, then tell me’,” said the imposing Bazoum, sitting on the sofa in his Niamey office. “We are ready to discuss your problem with you and resolve it. Declare that you’re a rebel front with specific claims on the Nigerien state.”

He said he received a handwritten letter from Sahraoui himself, which said: “No, we have no problem with you; we are waging jihad against Mali.”

According to Bazoum, the letter contained a list of Sahraoui’s comrades in Nigerien jails, whom he wanted released. If they were freed, ISGS promised to shield Niger from attack.


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“I freed some of them to show my good will, but I couldn’t free all of them because some were on trial,” Bazoum said.

After that, the communication channel broke down and attacks escalated. Some believe the group’s militants could still be offered an olive branch to demobilise and be reintegrated into Nigerien society. But Bazoum is not among them.

“The young people working with Abu Walid al-Sahraoui aren’t just there to oppose the Daoussahak, they’re also there to wage jihad against our country, and they attack us,” Bazoum said. “We have no solution to propose to them, all we have is war to weaken them.”

Wahid was chained up, freed only occasionally to relieve himself, fed on nothing but flatbread and pond water, and ferried around with the militants, who he said were constantly on the move.

They would tell me about army positions they wanted to attack
Former hostage of ISGS
They were training an army of children, he said. Three to five new boys, aged around 10, would arrive every day – usually group members’ brothers who had been sent for.

He said that foreign soldiers were a major ISGS target.

“I don’t know whether they were American or French, but in Mali there were lots of white soldiers, and they [ISGS] particularly wanted to kill them. They knew the whites were after them,” he said.

For one of his three months as a captive, Wahid was held by the group’s head of recruitment, Petit Chapori, who would occasionally come and chat to his prisoner. Since the deaths of the American special forces soldiers, much attention has been focused on Doundou Cheffou, an ISGS member who had been a target of the joint US-Nigerien raid just before the Tongo Tongo attack. According to several sources with knowledge of the group, however, Cheffou is merely a “chef de poste”, below Petit Chapori in the hierarchy.

“He asked me if, when I was a soldier, I drank alcohol. I said no. He asked if I smoked, and I said yes. Did I fuck women? I said yes. How many foam mattresses did I sleep on? I said two or three. He laughed and said: ‘Look what life has done to you. Now you sleep on the ground, with no mattress at all.’”

He added: “Petit Chapori speaks of Islam, but he’s not really a believer. He’s just a thug.”

None of the group practised Islam as Wahid knew it. He never saw anyone do the required ablutions before praying – and he was never allowed to wash himself. They said half the usual number of prayers, and when he asked them why, they said it was because they were travellers.

He asked them why they were fighting. “They always said: ‘We want nothing. Our mission is to wage jihad.’ Then they would tell me about army positions they wanted to attack.”

Every day of his ordeal, Wahid thought the militants were going to slit his throat, as they had Isa’s. But one day, his captors unlocked his chains. After negotiations with the government, they had agreed to free him. He was driven back the way he had come, three months earlier.

When he got back to his mother’s house in Niamey, the pain in his shoulders from being chained up for three months stopped him sleeping. But he has recovered, and is about to get married.

Wahid was lucky to escape with his life. That is something his former captors cannot do, he said.

“Some want to leave, and stop fighting, but they can’t. If you abandon the group, they’ll kill you.”https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/ ... n-soldiers

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