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Airstrike in Bounti. No collateral damage say Malians and French (v2)

(B2) Both the French and Malian armies deny any blunders at Bounti on January 3. They claim not to have hit the witnesses of a marriage, but rather a terrorist group, not far from there

The Bounti camp is located not far from the RN16 and Hombori, a place of many IEDs (funds: OpensStreetMap)

According to the Fulani youth organization, Tabital Pulakuu, strikes hit a wedding celebrated on Sunday (January 3) in the village of Bounti, as reported by the radio. RFI with a thousand precautions. About twenty victims would be identified. But confusion reigns over the balance sheet, as over the mode of action, and the author of the attack.

The French Ministry of the Armed Forces has published a communicated this Thursday (7.1), at the end of the evening (just before 23 p.m.) specifying the circumstances of the strike, partly confirming items already given by the Malian armed forces (FAMa) the day before (6.1).

Operation 'Eclipse'

A joint FAMa-Barkhane operation

The joint operation brings together the Malian armed forces (FAMa), the G5 Sahel joint force and the French Barkhane force called "Eclipse", according to the Malians. It takes place in an area of ​​central Mali, characterized by the presence and action of armed terrorist groups (GAT), in particular " elements of the SERMA katiba " in the region of Douentza, " one kilometer north of the village of Bounti ».

An IED training and manufacturing center

The group has logistics holdings. What the Malians call Merkaz: training centers or workshops for making improvised explosive devices (IED); these IEDs that the groups come to put on the RN16 very close between Douentza and Hombori and which strike in particular the French or Malian soldiers. Three French people were killed just after Christmas (read: Three Barkhane soldiers die in an IED).

A seven-step operation

For the military, the operation carried out on Sunday (January 3) in the afternoon is fairly classic.

1° It is based on “ an intelligence maneuver lasting several days ».

2° In this area, more than an hour before the strike, a REAPER drone " detects a motorcycle with two individuals north of the RN16 ". The vehicle then joins a group of about XNUMX adult men in an isolated area ". Malians give a slightly higher figure. They speak of a fifty people who begin to gather around 11 a.m. Around 13 p.m., these elements of the katiba Serma, " dressed the same », form « three groups ».

3° All of the intelligence and real-time elements then make it possible to " characterize and formally identify this group as belonging to a GAT ". " Taking into account the behavior of individuals, the materials identified as well as the cross-checking of the information collected “, an (air) strike is then decided.

4° The observation of the zone “ for over an hour and a half “Also allowed” to exclude the presence of women or children ».

5° A patrol of fighter planes (NB: Mirage 2000) - already " in flight » then receives the order « to carry out a targeted strike at 15:00 p.m. local time. Typing is done by " three bombs and is “located at 30 PWB 4436 83140, at “ more than a kilometer north of the first settlements of Bounti ". It is a " open and semi-wooded space ».

6° On the balance sheet, “ thirty of 'terrorists' are " neutralized ».

7° Around 17 p.m. (local time), a group of villagers and armed men in pickup vehicles and motorcycles arrive on the site and proceed to the burial of the dead, according to the FAMa. " The wounded are picked up by pickups and motorcycles, before leaving in different directions. The survivors occupy the heights with binoculars and walkie-talkies.

An operation in accordance with the rules of armed conflict

The operation " was conducted in accordance with the targeting principles in force, in strict application of the law of armed conflict “, specify the French.

No helicopter involved

The airstrike was " unique ". " No helicopters were engaged during this combat action “, contrary to the allegations. The elements " available, whether the analysis of the area before and after the strike, as well as the robustness of the targeting process, make it possible to exclude the possibility of collateral damage ».

No collateral damage

The post-strike allegations » on a wedding fall under "misinformation concludes the French army staff. " No collateral damage, no constituent part of a festive gathering or wedding was observed. No women or children were present or targeted.

Comments : these precise elements remove the doubt on the nature and the balance sheet of the air strike. On the other hand, they do nothing to clarify what happened to Bounti's marriage. The presence of a (lonely) helicopter also raises questions. These craft usually fly in pairs. A MINUSMA investigation is under way. As long as the facts of Bounti will not be elucidated, a doubt will remain on the action of the French and Malian armies.

(updated) land mission

A ground mission made up of soldiers from the Barkhane Force went on Friday (8.1) to the scene of the French strike north of the village of Bounti. The elements collected during this mission are “ in all respects consistent with the analysis and assessment of the situation produced so far “, indicates the staff of the armies.


Several seriously injured wounded treated by MSF

For its part, Doctors Without Borders confirms having treated, at the beginning of the week, several seriously injured patients from the villages of Bounti and Kikara, at its referral health center in Douentza. The patients, " mostly elderly men, were injured by explosions, shrapnel and gunshot wounds ". The NGO, which was not present in the area at the time of the events, is " unable to confirm the exact circumstances of these incidents, around which there is still much confusion ».

Updated Friday night 8 to Saturday 9.1

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).