A well-known Malian commander has urged civilians to flee part of a northern region recently attacked by Islamic State jihadists, in a rare admission of the security problems facing locals.
“There are no armed forces or any entity to guarantee the security of the population in these areas,” General El Hadj Ag Gamou said in a message circulating on WhatsApp.
Gamou is an ethnic Tuareg who has played a prominent role in the fight against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group in the Gao region.
His undated audio message in the Tamashek language, authenticated to AFP on Wednesday, was a rare admission from such a senior source of the severity of the situation in the area.
It referred specifically to the village of Djebock and neighboring localities between the towns of Gao and Talataye.
“The enemy will surely take control of these areas because no security is there to stop them,” Gamou warned.
He said he “strongly” urged locals to leave and “settle in large cities for their safety and that of their herds while waiting for stability to return.”
The Sahel country is in the grip of a jihadist campaign that began in the north in 2012 alongside a local Tuareg insurgency.
Jihadist massacres spread in 2015 to the center of the country and to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Across the three countries, thousands have lost their lives and around two million have fled their homes.
Mali is in the hands of a military junta that seized power in August 2020. There was no response on Wednesday from the authorities to Gamou’s widely-circulated message.
Gamou heads a pro-government Tuareg militia called GATIA and holds the rank of general in the Malian army.
The UN has repeatedly expressed concern about the situation around Gao and in Menaka, further east.
The junta has remained relatively quiet about the situation, generally claiming that there has been a “reversal of the trend” of jihadists gaining ground.
Since March, the ISGS has stepped up offensives in the region. Dozens of civilians were killed last week at Talataye, the first time the town had been targeted.
The state has a very weak presence there. Local people, mainly nomads living in camps scattered across the desert, are caught in the conflict, often facing accusations from the jihadists of collaborating with the authorities.