Newspaper article International New York Times

Keeping a Qaeda Unit on the Run

Newspaper article International New York Times

Keeping a Qaeda Unit on the Run

Article excerpt

If the jihadist groups exist at all, it is as a numerically small band -- a few hundred at most -- constantly on the run, closely watched by American and French drones.

Is Al Qaeda's regional affiliate in West Africa dead, at least for now?

Since the beginning of March, French forces have killed more than 40 jihadists in Mali belonging to the affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or its associates. They have killed at least three important leaders, including the father-in-law of the most wanted of all African jihadists, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, as well as the successor to Mr. Belmokhtar's mentor, Abu Zeid.

Several top chiefs in a Qaeda spinoff that ruled northern Mali during the 2012 reign of terror also have been captured.

At the same time, jihadists have not pulled off any significant attacks in nearly a year, since twin suicide bombings in Niger last May. Many of their arms caches have been destroyed.

If jihadist groups exist at all, it is as a small band -- a few hundred at most -- constantly on the run, closely watched by American and French drones, and pushed into the forbidding and lawless deserts of southern Libya, according to Western diplomatic and defense officials in the region.

So the group that terrorized half a country, northern Mali, in the heart of West Africa for much of 2012, taking over its major towns, and threatening other nations in the region, has been reduced to a pale remnant of its former self. It is no longer the pre- eminent threat to the fragile states in West Africa's Sahel region - - the band of desert and semi-desert running just below the Sahara.

"This is a spectacular improvement," said a senior Western diplomat in the region who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. "They have been reduced to some thoroughly inhospitable zones. And they no longer have the means to intervene significantly" -- in other words, stage a major attack, the diplomat said. The French military, spread in small bases throughout the region from Chad to Mali, and aided by American technology, has put a serious damper on the terrorist groups.

"The French military apparatus now encompasses all of the Sahel," Col. …

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