Mali’s junta-dominated government has taken delivery of combat helicopters from Russia to help its army fight a bloody jihadist insurgency, an AFP journalist saw.
Defense Minister Sadio Camara late Wednesday formally received two helicopters, radar, and other equipment brought by a Russian transport plane to a military base at Bamako airport.
The delivery adds to at least four helicopters and weapons provided by Russia under closer ties forged by rebel colonels who seized power in 2020.
Russia has also supplied what are officially described as military instructors — personnel that France says are operatives from Russia’s Wagner security arm.
Mali’s rapprochement with the Kremlin has prompted French forces and their European allies to announce their exit from the country.
They have been helping the impoverished Sahel nation fight a decade-old jihadist campaign that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
On its website, the Malian army said the new consignment was “the fruit of a sincere and very long-running partnership” with Moscow.
The equipment comprised “combat helicopters, the latest radars and much other material needed for the fight against terrorism and extremism.”
An AFP journalist saw two helicopters and at least five transport trucks.
Colonel Camara said the equipment included a 59N6-TE radar, “capable of detecting in 3D objects flying at a speed of up to 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) per hour.”
“Today, we can say with pride that our army is able to operate completely independently, without asking for help from anyone,” he said, referring to air support provided by foreign armed forces, notably France.
— aBamako (@aBamako) March 31, 2022
No details have been provided about the terms under which the weapons are being supplied.
Camara went to Moscow in March with air force chief Colonel Alou Boi Diarra, in an unadvertised trip that coincided with the early days of the war in Ukraine.
They discussed the supply of additional military gear, two military sources told AFP at the time.
Mali was among 35 countries that abstained in the UN General Assembly vote in March that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by an overwhelming majority and demanded the Kremlin immediately halt its operations.