Friday, January 18, 2013

Fighting and dying in Africa

In July of last year, northern Mali fell into the clutches of anti-government Islamist groups. In October, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a French resolution approving an African-led force to assist the Malian army in combating the Islamist militants.

While only French troops have so far been directly involved in the fighting, several countries have committed personnel and equipment to the operation. These countries include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The Belgian contingent consists of 75-80 staff members, two C-130 transport aircraft, and one or two Agusta A109 Medevac medical evacuation helicopters.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport plane of the Belgian Air Component
photographed at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, 2009. Source

Agusta A109 helicopter of the Belgian Air Component
at Florennes Air Base in Namur, Belgium, 2012. Source

France has already sustained its first casualty in the conflict. On 11 January, battalion commander Lt. Damien Boiteux, 41, was hit by small arms fire in his Gazelle helicopter during an attack on a rebel column near Sévaré. Although the other pilot was able to fly the helicopter back to base, Lt. Boiteux later died of his wounds.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault at the coffin of Lt. Damien Boiteux,
the first European casualty in the Northern Mali conflict. Source

Meanwhile, hundreds of Africans have been killed and about 374,000 have become refugees in a conflict that will continue to affect the region for many years to come.

Also this week, a group of militants with relations to Al-Qaida crossed the border from Mali into Algeria and captured a BP-owned natural gas field, In Aménas. The militants were reported to have killed two foreign nationals and were holding 41 foreign nationals - among them eight Norwegians - hostage. A spokesman for the group said that the purpose of the attack was to get revenge on the countries that had intervened in Mali. After an unsuccessful rescue operation by the Algerian military, some reports indicated that many of the hostages have been killed. The hostage situation remains unresolved.


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