What follows are summaries of Mauritanian newspaper accounts of this weekend’s clashes between Mauritanian and Malian forces and AQIM in northern Mali in the Wagadou Forest area, as of the morning of 26 June. The major take away seems to be that the Mauritanians destroyed an AQIM built (or being built) in the the area and suffered an unclear number of casualties in the process. Some accounts, quoting Mauritanian or Malian military sources, claim higher or lower casualty numbers; others describe an ambush rather than an attack (the Mauritanian Army claims it attacked the camp, while some reports say they were hit unexpectedly). The Mauritanians used air power and wet with heavy weapons (it is unclear what kind) and land mines by AQIM’s men. Some reports say AQIM suffered heavy losses but was able to flee the area with its wounded and dead, leaving some behind. A solid count (or range) on AQIM casualties is not forthcoming from Mauritanian, Malian or other reports thus far. The group is likely to release a statement soon enough. The Mauritanian president returned to the country early from a visit to Pretoria, South Africa where he was working with the AU panel on Libya.
Readers are encouraged to post similar summaries/accounts and any information they have in the comments section from their own sources as information becomes available (please also offer corrections where summaries may have been negatively affected by translation).
- Al-Akhbar: Anonymous source from AQIM claims the group destroyed twelve trucks of a seventeen truck Mauritanian army convoy. The source says that the Mauritanians were ambushed in a rocket attack while guarding Malian villages (with Malian Army troops). The source says the AQIM leadership plans to issue a statement with details of the operation. The same account reports the Mauritanian army confirmed that it destroyed an AQIM camp in northern Mali in an operation with support from the Malian Army, and notes that the Mauritanian Army has yet to issue an account or statement on the clashes. According to the account Malian forces did not participate in the fighting. The report quotes an anonymous military source as saying two soldiers were wounded (one with a head injury and the other “on other parts of his body due to the explosion”) by an AQIM-planted anti-vehicle land mine and are receiving medical treatment. The report concludes by nothing that “the Army has been in heavy fighting with the military group at a time when Presdient Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Prime Minister Moulay Ould Mohamed Laghdaf are traveling” in South Africa to discuss the Libyan crisis and Iran, respectively, and that the president returned to Mauritania as a result of the confrontations. (Here.) Another article gives details on injuries and casualties. It reports that the two men injured were officers and that only one of them sustained serious injuries. The men set of an anti-vehicle mine the government claims was laid by AQIM “on Friday evening before the star of the confrontation” and are being treated in Nouakchott. The report quotes military sources saying the men’s truck was “entirely destroyed by a mine set by the organization (AQIM) at one of the entrances to the Wagadou Forest to impede the movement of Mauritanian troops”. The article says that military sources previously reported four injuries with one being serious before a military order came down forbidding discussion of military casualties. (Here.) A third article quotes sources in Nema saying two Mauritanian Air Force planes “arrived on Saturday in the city [Nema] on their way to transfer the wounded from military confrontations to Nouakchott. The article says a source put the number of wounded at fifteen “along with the bodies of the elements who fell in the field due to mine explosions caused by AQIM.” The article describes a “power vacuum” resulting from “the urgent need for management of the operations at the political level” referring to the president and prime minister’s absence in South Africa. It notes previous high casualty clashes between the Mauritanian Army’s anti-terrorism troops and AQIM. (Here.) A fourth account (from the morning of 26 June) describes the military’s continuing efforts in the Wagadou forest in northern Mali. It says the Army is attempting to control the entrances to the area, of which it says there are five, and quotes military sources as saying that troops have been reinforced but are not re-entering the area but “waiting for the destruction of the combat power of the core Salafi fighters holed up inside by means of areal bombardment.” It quotes the same sources as saying that military air craft flew overhead and that heavy artillery was used in the fight to destroy the AQIM camp the Army says in/was inside. (Recall that the Mauritanian military used similar tactics in its clashes with AQIM in Mali in late 2010). It quote a military source as saying that the confrontation began as “military engineers tried to advance toward the edge of the forest to comb the area and disarm land mines planted by the guerrillas at the north and northeast entrances” and that “the Army has stepped up its attack yesterday to cover provide cover fire to engineering components for fear of snipers the organization (AQIM) may have placed in the forest and, the Army says, you can see huge explosions in the forest the result of military planes, meaning that the organization had amassed some weapons inside the forest located in Mali”. It goes on to say that the military is saying this process “may be continued for some time despite the cost of materiel and human resources on both sides.” It says that while the “performance is bad for the government” as the men were ambushed and suffered serious losses at time when the president (who often personally manages military operations and around whom decision making is centered) was out of the country, allowing AQIM to cause a leadership crisis on the Mauritanian side. It ends by quoting Ahmed Ould Daddah, leader of the opposition RFD party, as saying he is “surprised by the president’s preoccupation with secondary concerns while the soldiers are facing open war with a fierce enemy.” (Here.)
- Sahara Media: Quotes a Mauritanian military source from an AFP article as saying he saw “chard bodies” of AQIM fighters in Wagadou which are “believed to have fallen as a result of intensive air strikes carried out by Mauritanian Air Force planes.” It reports four casualties. (Here.) A second article quotes an anonymous military source as saying AQIM “suffered its biggest losses in its battles against armies in the region.” This source says that in mine explosion mentioned in the summaries of al-Akhbar accounts above, there were four men in the vehicle, of whom two officers were killed and two injured. The military source also reports that people in a nearby village (name) told Mauritanian soldiers gunmen abducted the village nurse, “forcing them into a truck’s flatbed with approximately twenty dead and wounded insurgents”. (Here.) Another story quotes a Malian military official as saying Mauritanian military helicopters evacuated the wounded. It reports four soldiers wounded or killed, and reports “the destruction of 12 vehicles belonging to the organization, and the killing and injury of dozens of its members” It quotes a Malian Army Captain as saying the the battles were “fierce”. (Here.) A longer article describes the context of the confrontation, summarizing Malian newspaper reports about movements of materiel and men into the Wagadou Forest, claiming that the supplies there included “a shipment of weapons from Libya moved to northern Mali” (on this see Andrew Lebovich’s recent post here.) and the Malian government’s plans for an offensive against the group. It quotes Malian military sources as saying it is likely that AQIM hoped to use camps in Wagadou Forest to plan and launch attacks against Mauritania. (Here.) A fifth article describes the reinforces as coming from the fifth military region, including ground forces and air power. It describes Mauritanian operations in Mali in September 2010 and joint Mauritanian-Malian operations against AQIM this month. (Here.) Sahara Media also reported on a statement from an organization made up of Salafists detained by the government criticizing the operations accusing the president of fighting a proxy war for the United States, “the Bush crusade against Islam”. It goes on: “The President of the Poor (one of Ould Abdel Aziz’s campaign slogans), who boasted of kicking out Israel then said: ‘let me do the job for you’” attacking the government and condemning torture and abuse by the authorities. (Here.)
- Taqadoumy: An early article reported security sources saying three AQIM vehicles and a few tents in the Wagadou Forest were destroyed in the confrontation. Fighting took place in the Wagadou Forest as well as in the area of Lehreith to the north of the forest. (Here; here, from CRIDEM.) A second article quotes Malian sources as saying the Mauritanians lost “almost 27 people, while twelve vehicles were destroyed of the seventeen trucks the Mauritian Army had.” It goes on to quote a Mauritanian officer who offers a different account: nine Mauritanians wounded (including a captain) and seven trucks were destroyed and some AQIM elements “managed to escape with their dead and wounded, leaving three trucks behind.” The article notes differences in the Mauritanian and Malian accounts of the clashes. (Here.) Another report quotes Malian sources who say the helicopters evacuating the wounded were Malian Army helicopters and that eight men died in the Wagadou Forest, three after being evacuated from the battle. (Here.)
- Journal Tahlil: A report quotes sources in Mali as saying “There are many vehicles burnt and done on the spot. It is a heavy toll, according to what we have learned” while noting that the source was not “able to identify the side the deceased belonged to”. It quotes Mauritanian Army states as telling the international media that the AQIM camp in the Wagadou Forest was “completely destroyed” and that “the Malian Army was not involved in the actual attack”. AQIM men responded to the Mauritanians with “heavy weapons” and injured four Mauritanians, two seriously. The military source says “there is still no clear picture of the enemy’s losses”. It concludes by warning against that “this is not the time for criticism of ‘recklessness’”, alluding to opposition criticism of past clashes with AQIM. (Here.) Another article discusses AQIM’s alleged use of land mines. It reports that a camel was killed by a mine on 22 June and quotes a Mauritanian military source as saying mines had never been used in that area before. It says the Mauritanian and Malian militaries have been conducting mine clearance operations and providing locals with free medical care “for a few weeks”. (Here.)