Mali on alert, Mauritania chases al Qaeda to border

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Mali has placed its forces on alert a day after clashes erupted between Mauritania’s army and suspected al Qaeda fighters near the two countries’ border, an officer at the Malian defence ministry said yesterday.

Security sources and local media said on Tuesday about 10 Islamist fighters were killed, while the Mauritanian government news agency said an attack had been repelled and the gunmen were being chased towards Mali.
“What we can say is that we are on alert. This happens when there is an attack somewhere. The alert was activated to secure the borders,” said a Malian officer, who asked not to be identified.
“Patrols have been reinforced, while joint operations (with the Mauritanian army) launched during the last attack will continue,” the officer said.

In past weeks, Mauritanian and Malian forces said they launched attacks on some outposts used by fighters from al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM.

A Mauritanian security source said AQIM vehicles were at the Mauritania-Mali border, possibly on the Mauritanian side, and being chased by the Mauritanian army.

Countries in Africa’s Sahel-Sahara region are battling an increased threat from gunmen linked to al Qaeda’s north African group, who frequently operate alongside rebel groups, bandits and traffickers in the huge, largely desert zone.

The nations of the region, including Niger and Algeria, said in May they would set up a joint force of up to 75,000 soldiers within 18 months to secure the desert area.