Present for thousands of years in the Sahara and the Sahel, the Tuareg populations have always claimed independence and freedom of movement in these areas. Today, history has divided this space into countries with which the Tuareg will often find themselves in difficulty. Since then, their identity and territorial claims have been expressed through rebellions and ad hoc alliances. On August 14, 2014, after the defeat of the Malian army in Kidal, loyalist fighters from the Imghad tribe (rival Tuareg tribe of the Ifoghas) announced the creation of the Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group and Allies (Gatia).
The birth of the GATIA stems directly from the defeat of the Malian army in the May 21, 2014 battle of Kidal by the rebel forces of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad
(MAA). They first took control of Kidal and then the town of Anéfis, which had been abandoned by the Malian authorities.
From May to July 2014 clashes broke out in the vicinity of Tabankort and Anéfis, in the Gao region, between rebel groups composed of MNLA, HCUA and the autonomist branch of the MAA. Against an alliance of loyalists composed of armed groups of Arabs from the Lemhars tribe, a militia of Tuareg from the Imghad tribe, and the Songhai from the Coordination des Mouvements et Front patriotique de résistance (CM-FPR) party.
Several hundred people were killed in the fighting. This latest series of tribal clashes prompted loyalist fighters from the Imghad tribe to take the initiative in creating the GATIA. But the Platform of Tuareg Executives and Leaders does not recognize it and condemns its creation. It calls it an ethnic militia.
GATIA is a loyalist movement, opposed to independence or autonomy for northern Mali. It is allied with the loyalist branch of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA).
On the day the movement was formalized, its secretary-general, Fahad Ag Almahmoud, said: “We have just created the GATIA to defend the interests of our community in northern Mali, especially against the MNLA. We want to work with the Malian government to bring stability to the country.
This message was perfectly heard by the Malian government, since as early as January 2015, the Minusma noted that several militiamen of the group, wounded during the fighting in Tabankort and treated in Gao, were soldiers of the regular Malian army.
They had been trained by the European Union Training Mission in Mali in Koulikoro. However, the government denies that it was behind the creation of the Gatia.
As mentioned in the name of this organization, it is not surprising that the fighters of Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group and Allies (GATIA) are mostly Tuareg from the Imghad tribe. It is well known that they have supported the Malian government since the beginning of the war in Mali
According to Jeune Afrique: “Despite official denials, the links between the authorities and this militia are clearly established.
At its inception, the group claimed to have 1,000 fighters. It has a base between Gao and Kidal. The movement is mainly present in the vicinity of Bourem and in the localities of Tarkint and Tabankort, near Anéfis. It also has a camp at Tin-Habou, near Boni.
Allied with GATIA, the loyalist branch of the Arab Movement of Azawad has 500 fighters.
From the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2015, GATIA and the Platform groups fought hard against the rebels of the Coordination of Azawad Movements, mainly located in Ménaka, Tabankort and Anéfis. As a result, the GATIA conquered Ménaka and Anéfis in particular. But under pressure from MINUSMA, the group withdrew from the latter town a few days later
After the summer of 2015, there was a phase of “de-escalation”. After three weeks of discussions, the Platform and the CMA sealed the peace during the “pact of honor.”
Today, the GATIA has emancipated itself from the “tutelage” of the Malian government and has moved closer to its former enemies of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), even if episodes of tension persist from time to time in Kidal between the GATIA and the ex-rebels.
In Kidal, the situation is deteriorating between the Imghad Tuaregs of the GATIA and the Ifoghas of the HCUA in a struggle for influence over the administrative and security management of the town. The fighting did not turn to the advantage of the GATIA, which was finally driven out of the town. As if to save face from this bitter failure, clashes continued in the vicinity of Kidal against the men of the CMA.
On June 1, 2017, after an attack on a military post in Abala, Niger, the Islamic State jihadists retreated to Mali. They were then attacked by the Malian army, the French army, and the Tuareg militiamen of the GATIA and the MSA. In response, the leader of the Islamic State in the Sahel accused the Imghad and Daoussahak Tuaregs of treason and complicity with France and Niger in a press release. He particularly threatens the leaders of the MSA and GATIA.
But this factual and circumstantial union in the face of a common enemy will not prevent fighting in the Kidal region. In July 2017, clashes resumed and turned to the advantage of the CMA and GATIA was driven out of Anéfis. It was also defeated at the battle of Takellote south of Kidal where it lost one of its most important positions. It was then driven out of Inafarak, near In Khalil, and finally abandoned the town of Ménaka.
Some GATIA members also faced charges of links to drug trafficking.
For recruiting child soldiers, GATIA and other groups in the Platform are on the UN’s blacklist of entities that violate the rights of children in war.
Independent U.N. experts also accuse Baye Coulibaly, manager of a transport company and a member of GATIA, of being one of the largest traffickers of migrants in the Gao region. According to the report, he also enlisted some of the migrants rejected by Algeria into the GATIA. Another GATIA member, meanwhile, is accused of escorting numerous drug convoys in 2017 and 2018.