Eighteen United Nations peacekeepers and two civilians were wounded in a mortar attack on a military base in northern Mali on Thursday, January 9, a U.N. official said, in fresh violence in the war-torn West African country.
Olivier Salgado, the spokesperson for MINUSMA, the U.N. mission in Mali, said the toll was “preliminary.”
Salgado tweeted that the attack occurred at 6 a.m. and he told Reuters that six of the peacekeepers were seriously wounded.
An internal U.N. report seen by AFP said 15 mortar rounds landed “inside and around” the military base in Tessalit, in the Kidal region of Mali’s desert north in northern Mali, close to the border with Algeria.
The Tessalit camp hosts a battalion of troops from Chad, as well troops deployed to the France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel.
Camp personnel took shelter in a bunker, the report said, adding that two Malian civilians were wounded in the section of camp housing French soldiers.
No French personnel were injured, said armed forces spokesperson Colonel Frédéric Barbry.
Many armed groups including Islamic State are active in Mali and the wider Sahel region, but the majority of attacks are attributed to JNIM, which formed in March 2017 from a merger of several smaller groups. JNIM’s leadership has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, tweeted that Ansar Dine, one of JNIM’s constituent groups, is suspected of conducting the attack.
Mali has been struggling to contain a complex insurgency since 2012, when a Tuareg separatist uprising was exploited by Islamist extremists who took key cities in the desert north.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, and the MINUSMA peacekeeping force was then established.
But the militant groups have morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, and the insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger. Large swathes of Mali remain outside government control, and inter-ethnic bloodshed is a regular occurrence.
Serval evolved in August 2014 into Operation Barkhane, and roughly 4,500 French troops are deployed in the region, including around 2,700 soldiers in Mali. Barkhane focuses activity in insurgent-hit Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, and troops work alongside other international operations, including the roughly 14,000-strong MINUSMA U.N. stabilization mission in Mali and the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S), a planned 4,500-strong joint counter-terrorism force comprising troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.
Barkhane has a growing international dimension, with European partners sending more troops and equipment. Denmark has deployed two helicopters and up to 70 troops to support Barkhane and Estonia is to almost double the size of its Barkhane contingent this year. Chinook helicopters from the United Kingdom currently support the operation.
With reporting from AFP