Dutch Apache’s use their guns in Mali, spark protests.

Lieuwe de Vries for Veenstra & de Vries Publishing

When MNLA rebels advanced on the town Tabankort, north of Gao, a group of UN troops protecting civilians against the militants got caught under enemy fire. When MNLA rebels fired their heavy weapons at the peacekeepers a Royal Netherlands Air Force Apache was called in to provide fire support to the UN troops. The aircraft fired warning shots to deter the rebels, when that failed it engaged and destroyed a vehicle from which the attack was being coordinated.

 The attacks also sparked protest in the northern region with protestors taking control of Kidal’s airport. The protestors, mostly women and children, were violent said U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri to Reuters. UN troops were ordered to abandon their posts after shots fired into the air failed to end the protests. The protestors took control of the airport and burned tents and generators.

In recent days skirmishes around Tabankort have been heating up. The town is held by GATIA militia allied to the government, the largely Tuareg MNLA rebels have been trying to seize the town. On its website the MNLA condemned the attacks by the RNLAF Apache’s, stating they are a sign of direct support for the militias aligned with the Malian government and thus a sign of a lack of impartiality on the part of MINUSMA. The militia will be suspending its cooperation with MINUSMA on security matters.

The Dutch have been support the UN’s mission to Mali, called MINUSMA short for United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, with 450 ground troops, four Apache attack helicopters and a number of Chinook heavy transport helicopters.

RNLAF_AH-64D

The Dutch ground troops, Special Forces working under the Special Operations Land Task Group, are there to collect intelligence on the countries northern regions. In recent operations the Special Forces have been hunting for enemy weapon cashes, a recent successful raid netted them a number of katyusha missiles.

In this operation the Apache’s also proved a valuable resource. Several locations had long been suspected as weapon storage spots for the Coordination Group, a collection of militia’s cooperating towards a independent Azawad region. An Apache helicopter actually on a escorting a MEDEVAC Chinook diverted from its mission to inspect these sites with its sensors. Upon examination by analysts the missiles were spotted.

When Special Forces entered the area to retrieve the missiles they were confronted by Coordination Group troops and locals trying to prevent them from inspecting the area. Once Apache helicopters showed up as a show of force the locals not only agreed to the inspection but also turned the missiles over to the troops. The missiles were flown back to their base at Camp Castor near Gao and destroyed.

Mali has been the stage for a large international intervention after a coup and a rebellion in the sparsely populated northern desert region. The Tuaregs living there, some recently returned to Mali after having served in Kaddafi’s Libyan army, took control of more then half the country with the aid of islamist extremist. Though the MNLA proclaimed the regions independence from Mali it was the islamists who seized the most ground. A large French Force followed by a UN led international force has been trying to stabilize the region.

 Sources:

http://mnlamov.net/ – MNLA Website

http://www.defensie.nl/ – Dutch Ministry of Defence Website

http://www.reuters.com/ – Reuters website