Insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere – the majority linked to Al Qaeda – are in the news on an almost daily basis. But very little surfaces about a festering insurgency that has been on the go for six years in West Africa under the acronym of AQIM, or al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. This low-level series of guerrilla conflicts is widespread and sporadic, covering an area as vast as Europe. Nigeria has been drawn into the equation because its Boko Haram insurgent faction maintains close ties with AQIM and Islamic State.
For now though, the focus is on Mali where several jihadist groups – despite formal peace agreements – remain active. Involved is the French army and air force as well as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) as well as the European Union Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP).
The insurrection that fostered all this broke out early 2012 when President François Hollande announced the beginning of Operation Serval. Five hours later the first squadrons of French Gazelle helicopter gunships began attacking Islamist columns. A day later French fighter jets based in Chad, almost 2,000 kilometres away, were making sorties against rebel ground targets in northern Mali.
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