Forty-five to fifty-five degrees of heat and no shadow. However, it seems that it never happens there at all, ”says the commander of the GTIA, a mixed combat tactical group, with a smile. And, on reflection, he thoughtfully adds: “But we were all warned that this operation would not be like any other.”
This is about the beginning of March in the Sahara and a special operation in the Tigargar mountains. North Mali, the western part of the Iforas plateau. Creepy place. The black rocks bursting from the hellish heat in the endless sea of sand. Many years ago they were chosen by devils from all over the Sahara. Here they kept and from here spread sins over the continent - weapon, drugs, contraband and slaves. Here the neophytes were taught the wisdom of their inhuman life. From here they staged bloody raids on neighboring countries and licked their wounds. They also took hostages here and demanded a lot of money for them. And often they were received. What to do, in different countries - a different attitude to solving such problems. As they say in the headquarters of European intelligence services: “If abroad they are taken hostage by their fellow citizens, the Germans are sending money, the British are condolences, and the French are special forces.”
So, after the French commandos once again hit several imps here, their accomplices cut off the head of a sick old hostage and impudently stated that the French president “opened the gates of hell.” And they were not mistaken. In early February, 2013, the gate to their hell really opened. More precisely, the companies of the French legionnaires, paratroopers and marines, the Chadian guards and special forces were knocked out.
And we will go to the north ...
Back in the middle of last year, radical Islamist groups seized power over the north of the country from the local Tuareg separatists. By the way, they already then perfectly understood what further body movements threatened them with. Back in November last year, Al Qaeda’s “looking over the Sahara” himself stated: “If you want war, we are more than ready for it.” In confirmation of these words in January 2013, his subordinates moved south. This was too much, and now France and the coalition of the armed forces of the neighboring African countries are launching a military operation “Serval” in Mali. Apparently, they decided to test in practice the threat of the same character: "The Sahara will become a grave for your soldiers."
But with the mass extermination of the French from al-Qaeda somehow did not work out. The leader himself quickly retired to the north of Algeria, and for some reason his hell-raisers constantly disappeared from the battlefields without a trace before the troops arrived there. Despite the use of the most advanced means of detecting, listening and tapping, every time a question arose - where did they all go?
In search of a formidable enemy, the troops reached the northernmost borders of Mali. And here they are lucky. February 18 on the Iforas plateau, during reconnaissance at the western entrance to one of the valleys in the north of the Tigargar massif, the legionnaires finally found those they had been looking for. And the battle struck. Yes, even what! After five and a half hours of hurricane fire on both sides, despite the arrival of reinforcement from special forces, the enemy did not retreat a meter!
Struck not only stubbornness, but also the number of the enemy. In the very first battle of the reconnaissance group, according to its fighter, "before us about fifty militants rose from the ground at once." The next day, the legionnaire of the 2 Parachute Regiment, Chief Sergeant Harold Vormenzeel, was killed here.
Curiously, why would villains cling to these inhospitable rocks in the center of a lifeless desert? Radio reconnaissance showed that the area’s air, so far empty, like a drum, now filled with powerful electromagnetic radiation. At the same time worked up to forty cell phones. The speed of advancement and maneuver of the troops did its job. The field commanders were taken by surprise here, and they had to somehow keep in touch with each other. “They lose control of the situation,” rejoiced the French paratroopers and spies. - This is the end".
So, it seems, the villains of all stripes were driven into their lair. After analyzing the militant talks and intelligence data, the commander of the Serval Brigade, General Bernard Barrera, outlined the area around a secluded valley on a map. It is here that the largest organized crime group in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AKIM), sat down.
Competent authorities have warned that in this chaos of sand and granite, criminals can defend and hide almost for years, and if they wish, they can freely leave here. But it was not necessary to choose. Apparently, the devils decided to give their last fight here. And that's what they did.
Tigargar's stripping operation was called the Panther. Giving instructions for its implementation, the French president very clearly set out his vision of the behavior of this predator - “search and destroy”. This wording came to mind and command, and ordinary soldiers. Moreover, there was no one to regret. As it turned out, the militants themselves were not going to take care of themselves.
An operation plan was developed in a few days. They decided to take the fortified area by massive assault from three sides. At the western entrance to the valley, near the town of Aquelock, GTIA3 is located - mainly units of marines with their armor and artillery, reinforced by army helicopters. Her combat units supported aviation at the appointed hour were to enter the valley from the west.
The allies of the French - 800 of selected fighters of the Guard and Special Forces of the Chad Army - moved to the north from Aqelok, the town of Tessalit, then marched along the border with Algeria along the road leading to the south and placed blocks on the northeast exit from the valley. Their command explained its mission as follows: “Go to the enemy from the rear in order to prevent the militants from leaving for Algeria”, the border of which is only 50 km from the place of operation. Well, respectively, then they had to attack from the east.
The group had a tough order - “not to release the enemy by blocks” by any means. Easy to talk to! For this, the Chadian outposts in the east were not enough. Militants had to completely block all possible routes of retreat to the north, to the Algerian border. It was possible to solve the problem in one way - to deliver a decisive blow from an unexpected direction for the militants — the northern direction and force them to go not to the north, but to the south.
To do this, in perfect secrecy in the mountains 500 transferred selected fighters. Those who were ready to go into the thick of it. From where they took these, it is not difficult to guess. The GTIA TAP mixed combat tactical group went to the mountains (for secrecy in the media, it was first held as GTIA4). But this GTIA is a completely different "mixture." TAP is a troupes aéroportées. In Russian - just airborne. In the local slaughter "cocktail" - the combined detachments of the second parachute regiment of the Foreign Legion and the first parachute regiment. Among them were those who most recently jumped on Timbuktu and Tessalit. So they descended from heaven to earth, and then had to go even further. Landing force, she is in Africa too ... And now the commander of the 1-second parachute drew an arrow on the map, and the landing force rushed forward. Into the unknown.
First throw in 9 kilometers to the tops of the mountains. Brave maneuver. “The militants thought that the Europeans would get tired. But we passed, and they broke. " So summed up the first results of the campaign one of the authors of the plan of the operation. What's next? The first line of defense of the enemy.
At first glance, there is no one in the rocks. In fact, all the gaps and cracks are stuffed with evil and extremely dangerous "spirits" here. Therefore, at first invisible reconnaissance planes swirled over the black cliffs of Tigargar. Those who, from afar, by their slave omens can determine the possible positions of the AQIM in this stone chaos.
But the positions of the enemy here are cut down so cunningly and deeply that they are often not visible from the drone and it is impossible to get either a bomb or a missile. Problems are solved in the old manner. The paratroopers reveal pockets of defense with direct fire contact. Straight from marching columns, carrying a kilogram on their backs on 40 – 50, the legionnaires rearrange themselves in battle formations and storm the granite holes of the “Akims”. Fight face to face. According to an eyewitness, "the fire was fired at a distance of ten, and sometimes three meters." Almost melee. “The first peak is taken, we go to the next. When the group gets stuck under fire, Tigre helicopters take care of the enemy to calm down. ”
The assault groups throw grenades into the galleries punched in the rocks, and then descend into these sinister black holes. They are waiting for suicide bombers, stretch marks, mazes of manholes and tunnels and a sophisticated system of barrage fire. “In one of these moves, the position of the jihadists was around the corner of the gallery, and they shot at us ricocheting from the wall,” one of the legion officers later recalled.
... After six days, the last unit crossed the mountains, and the paratroopers reached the target. Down in front of them lay the inferno. Valley Amethettai.
It was here that was the main Malian stronghold Akim. As romantic French reporters wrote, “the sky is so hot here that, it seems, black rocks can collapse from its heat”. Could, but, unfortunately, did not collapse, and the devils who hid under them had to be crushed by ordinary army methods. Ahead were the new finds - armories, secret auto repair shops, dead bodies of militants thrown at their positions. Each step was given with a fight. The atmosphere of the “valley of death” was figuratively described by one legionary: “Nobody here told us:“ Thank you for coming to Amemettai ”.
They are opposed by the shadows without past and future, names and homeland. As the French reporter writes: “No one will ever know what kind of people they were. How did they get here, what did they think about, dying, waiting for an assault, choking on the heat during the daytime hours and shivering from the cold at night. ” But they made their own choice.
... Militants try to trick thermal imagers. They know the capabilities of this technology and seek to minimize the thermal radiation of their organisms. They move in very small groups under the cover of trees and ledges of rocks. Cover your Toyota with a wet cloth. But not everyone can deceive the insidious technique.
Here in the path of the assault group lies the body of an action movie. Death flew to him on a rocket that hit the pickup truck, whose charred frame froze nearby. He was a strong guy - before he died he was able to crawl to the entrance to the crevice.
While the legionnaires are busy with the dead, in the neighboring part of the valley, where the other group is walking, gunfire is heard from behind a pile of stones. Yesterday we didn’t have time to comb these places, and here’s the result - legionnaires face off against militants AKIM. The battle is transient. "Akims" for some reason jump out of the shelter into the open space under the aimed fire. Apparently, their main task is to be killed, and as soon as possible. Warrior paratroopers immediately contribute to this.
Soon, the shooting begins in another, large cave. Here the militants had a hospital. Bandages and instruments are scattered on the sandy floor. Several medical beds, two of which are occupied by "Akims" who have died from wounds.
But here not only the dead - in the stone crack between the wall and the floor of the cave under the covers hid an armed fighter. Several soldiers do not notice him and calmly pass by. He jumps and only the reaction of professionals does not allow him to mess things up.
A little further from another chasm another “Akim” falls out. Very young, still a teenager. He is lightly wounded and stunned by the sound of gunfire. He does not intend to fight at all - first he raises his hands, and then greedily drinks water from the flask extended to him.
The fact that he survived is a double miracle. Empty plastic canisters scattered everywhere from under the water vividly confirm that in the valley that has become a deadly trap for the AKIM militants, they, scattered around such shelters, are tormented by unbearable thirst.
Not everyone can take it. On the sixth of March, after a brief persuasion of the megaphone, a group of militants surrendered to the legionnaires here. And where to go? Killed - bad. Hurt - even worse. Even if you manage to leave, there is practically no chance to survive. Legionnaires have already found the bodies of wounded militants who died from dehydration. Before his death, his comrades, apparently, tried to help - the needle from the dropper remained stuck in a vein.
It is interesting that at one time their leaders chose Amemettai precisely because there are year-round sources of water in this valley. They are, but the water supply system to all positions is not brought. And with the yoke to the stream here, of course, now they don’t give a chance to escape.
If you don't want to give up, you have to leave. In some shelters, the French find weapons on a battle platoon. Militants throw it as it is to escape from here in the guise of civilians. But the chances of getting out alive are few. Flying French "tigers" here with the enemy do not stand on ceremony. On March 3, fourteen militants from a neighboring valley attempted to escape from the area of operation in a truck, and all of them were shot from combat helicopters without further investigation.
As suggested by the plan of the operation, the militants are forced to go not to the north, to Algeria, but to the south. Here, the terrain is more difficult, and you have to get out on foot. So “got under the helicopter” group, leaving from the southern slopes of Tigargar. Cruel? “Without water, they will not go far anyway, and they won't last here,” the staff officer shrugs. “And they will not be allowed into the wells.”
But, of course, "Panther" is not all-powerful. The former head of French intelligence says this calmly: “It is clear that some of them will come out of the encirclement. They know the terrain well. Remember Al Qaeda in Tora Bor in Afghanistan: they were also surrounded and bombed too, but the majority managed to disappear. This zone is very difficult to block. We do not have enough strength for this, and every stone is familiar to the enemy here. Some live in these rocks for several years. They have long-standing ties with the Tuareg tribes in the area, who will eventually help them. Those who really want to quit will quit. Those who want to fight to the death will remain. ”
Many wanted to fight to death here. According to intelligence data, about four hundred AKIM fighters defended the Amemettai valley. Over 250 killed. Mostly - foreign militants. Spread out in small groups throughout the valley, they were supposed to protect its core — the supply bases, the training camp, and the armories.
It is a lot of killed, it is not enough prisoners. Most fanatics wanted to death in the French legionnaire or paratrooper. And along the dry riverbed, and along the slopes of the mountains, the soldiers marched with utmost caution. Anywhere here, at any moment, a fighter could rise and open fire a few meters away.
An interesting case occurred here in early March. Then a small group of soldiers spent the night ten meters from the body of an AKIM militant. And at dawn, the body barely noticeably moved, and another “akim,” alive and healthy, rose over his dead comrade. After spending the whole night under the corpse, he was waiting for a good moment to defuse the horn in the French soldiers. With the moment, however, did not guess - they killed right away. The soldiers, too, are happy about such meetings and are always ready for them. According to one captain, in search of the enemy here, "almost every stone is palpable."
The 3rd GTIA was advancing on the valley from the west. Marines of the 1st regiment on "wheeled tanks»AMX 10 RC. They also got it, and they honestly paid tribute to the fighting spirit of the AQIM fighters. “They were not afraid ... They went to our“ armor ”with machine guns in their hands. An hour after the start of the attack, the "castle" blocking the entrance to the valley was not yet broken. " A dense defense was also organized here - 14.7 mm memory on the tops of the rocks, mini-bunkers with food, water and ammunition. Like in Vietnam.
In addition, the marines were the first to experience the innovations of "akims". IED Previously, undermining a canister of fertilizers — a type of combat activity familiar to the same Taliban — was rare in Africa. The fighting in Amemettay confirmed fears - the "akims" actively used the "Afghan" battle schemes using homemade mines. It happened in the very first battle of the Marines. Undermining of a VAB mine (BTR) and fire from all sides, plus a maneuver to push the Marines into the fire bag.
Then, despite the dashing shootout, there were no losses. There was, however, a moment when the bullet hit the paratrooper's helmet, but he miraculously survived. But 16 in March, in the same area, under similar circumstances, another Marines was not so lucky. During a military raid, under the "AMV 10 RC" tank was undermined by Corporal Van Doren from the first regiment of the marines. Three more Marines - crew members were injured.
According to the official representative of the headquarters of the grouping Colonel Burckhard, “the militants here stood firmly. No retreat at all. They wanted to hold their positions. They have been here for a very long time, and the terrain is well equipped. They have both trenches and enough weapons for a long defense. ” However, for the regular army analysis of the “long defense” is a matter of a few hours. And the marines knew that they would still bring down the castle from the “southern gate” of the Amemettai valley. And shot down. What did "akims" dream about? Kill yourself and kill others. This is what they wanted to carry with them to the grave.
Children of war
On the very first night of the operation, the soldiers saw with surprise how, in the moonlight, along the “valley of death”, a boy came to their positions. As soon as a warning shot was made in the air and the order was given to stop, the boy immediately pulled up his shirt to show that there was no “suicide belt” under it, and only then raised his hands. It was an exact compliance with the security requirements adopted in the French army. How did he know about them?
No wonder. Children here are fairly well educated. Only they are not taught what is needed at their age. How to approach the military, they know. They know how to shoot weapons that are sometimes larger than themselves. According to the officer, "before such boys provided the AIM fighters with information." However, the guy turned out to be harmless. Can not be said about others.
Legionnaire tells how during the stripping of the mountain ridge they came across traces of "Akims". “Traces led up to a small cleft in the rocks. At the entrance stood four militants. Hid here for two or three days. Automatic at the ready. They waited for someone to pass by. If this happened, they would have a great chance to open fire to us in the back, and then to massacre here. ”
Seeing the soldiers, one of the militants directs the machine in their direction. As usual, this is the last movement in his life. The rest surrender. To the surprise of the French, two of them are teenagers, about fifteen years old. They are immediately sent to a doctor and evacuated to headquarters, from where they will later be handed over to the Red Cross.
According to a legion officer, “the jihadists recruited, or rather,“ caught up ”a large number of children here, armed and trained them. This is me to the fact that AQIM here is not such select troops as we imagined. ” Why did this happen?
The secret was revealed at the end of March, when the leadership of AKIM began to actively persuade its militants from Syria to return to Africa. As it turned out, even suicide bombers are now willing to break up into fragments in more comfortable conditions than the native desert can offer.
7 March. Collection on the end of the first phase of the operation. Tired, sun-scorched faces with lips cracked from the heat. But in the eyes - pride. “I promised beer. There will be beer! ”Says General Barrera at the end of the ceremony. “Cold?” - In the accent of the legionary who shouted this humorous question - a firm “p”, which betrays his Slavic origin.
Before the Minister of Defense –16 tons of trophies. Thousands of rockets and grenades, more than 60 thousands of rounds, one and a half thousand shells, twenty artillery units - BM-21, three 122-mm D-30, one 100-mm gun, 82-mm and 62-mm mortars. Detonators and mixtures for IEDs. But they took not only weapons. Here are bags of rice, packets of sugar, jars of butter, canned food, powdered milk and green Chinese tea. And the old black iron chest, which, judging by the form, was actively carried from place to place. On its side - painted in white paint and topped with a crescent "Masjid al-Haram" - the Great Mosque in Mecca.
Destroyed two dozen battlewagon'ov - pickups with large-caliber machine guns and chargers. With prisoners, however, not a lot, only about a dozen. Among the prisoners - a citizen of France. The thirty-eight-year-old Algerian, a native of Grenoble, was taken with arms.
But this is not the end. From 18 to 21 March, the operation continues in the Terz Valley, south of Amemettai. 20 March, it was here that the Chadians and GTIA 3 met. The sappers blew up a truck full of shells and ammunition, and in the caches they found an 14.5-mm machine gun, an LNG-9, mortars and a Chinese 107 type 85 RPU. From 21 to 25 March, the operation continues, but there is no resistance anymore. GTIA TAP returns to Tessalit, and GTIA 3 begins to clean the eastern part of the Iforis plateau.
For AQIM, the results of the fighting in the valley are disappointing. More than three hundred militants have been slaughtered, deadly "good" gathered here for years. Things in Tigargar showed that the partisans were powerless against the regular army even in defense. Is someone gone? Let be. Akim will never have a quiet corner in the Amemettai valley. Training centers, warehouses with weapons and food, hospitals, repair shops ... Do they still have fortified areas of this level? The commander of the French contingent, General Barrera, is firmly convinced: “There was a citadel. We destroyed it. The militants have only a backyard. ”
It was not at all possible to war with the "akims", and they returned to the usual methods of "struggle." On March 10, "in response to the entry of French troops in Mali," a French citizen captured in Mali was executed in 2011 year. What else can they do? As this spring in the Sahara has shown, nothing.
But other Africans can. The Chadian Cossacks not only captured the main militants headquarters and the richest trophies for the entire operation in Tigargar, but also drove to death one of the al Qaeda leaders in Africa. About this - in the second part of "Peckle".