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End of mission for the Tiger and NH 90 helicopters in Mali. Like a void in the Minusma?

(B2) After 14 months of presence, the Germans ended the engagement of their Tiger combat helicopters in the peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The four helicopters and 363 soldiers of the 36th Hessian Attack Helicopter Regiment from Fritzlar return home

German Tiger helicopter from the hangar in Gao (© NGV / B2)

Close support, monitoring…

These combat helicopters were used in the MINUSMA " about 185 times », Indicates the Bundeswehr. They completed several types of missions. First, close air support when ground forces were attacked. “ The use of weapons [which the helicopter is equipped with] was never really necessary “, say the Germans, “ the attackers fled when the Tiger arrived ».

… And show of strength

United Nations troop convoys were often escorted from the air to protect them from attacks or warn them of dangerous locations. Tigers were also used to guard important roads or terrain points. Finally, they made 'Show of Strength', a low-altitude passage intended to impress. These overflights and convoy escorts deterred attackers and also contributed to the protection of ground forces.

A force less well endowed with helicopters?

The Canadians arrive… a little later

The German attack helicopters gone, just like the Belgian transport helicopters NH 90, remains a small void for a few days of course. But a crucial void. At the end of June and beginning of July, Mali is in the middle of an electoral period. The Canadians must take over, but a little later. They arrive with fewer resources than the Europeans: two Chinook-type transport helicopters (instead of five NH 90 helicopters provided by the Belgians and Germans), accompanied by four Grillon helicopters.

A narrower scope of action

The capabilities of the machines could also be more limited: the combat helicopters will mainly have a role of supporting the Chinooks, but not automatically autonomous missions. The Canadian decision to send the helicopters was a bit long and complicated by internal difficulties. The opposition criticized the interest in the deployment, pointing out the risks of this commitment and even calling into question the advisability of such a mission (Read from our colleagues at 45th degree north).

Other helicopters present with less capabilities… or for other missions

Salvadoran MD-500 helicopters will also be present. But they do not have the same elongation as the NH 90 (only 150-200 km range). MINUSMA also has a capacity of Mi-8 type civilian helicopters provided by a Ukrainian company, but they can only be used to transport cargo or men and require on-site protection. British heavy helicopters (three Chinook CH-47s) arrive in the area, in Gao, but as part of the French anti-terrorist operation Barkhane.

The air taxi: a vital need for blue helmets

The need for helicopters is fundamental for the United Nations force: for medical evacuations but also for transport, protection of ground troops, deterrence (as the Germans have well explained). If helicopters cannot go north (Salvadoran helicopters) or are limited in their use (Canadian helicopters), this further limits MINUSMA's autonomy of action and its deterrent force. Resupplying by land always remains very risky and sometimes complicated during the rainy season. Not all force bases also have an airstrip for planes to land. That of Kidal, for example, is out of the loop. Mined then bombed twice, it was partly invaded by the population.

A secret concern at the UN

The concern is therefore very real both within the ranks of MINUSMA and in different countries. During the debate at the United Nations Security Council last Thursday (June 14) on the renewal of the mission, several delegates regretted “ lack of sufficient resources “, as summarized by British diplomat Jonathan Allen. “ The deployment of force multipliers would strengthen the capacities of MINUSMA pleaded his Ivorian counterpart Ilhari Alcide Djédjé, deeming it necessary that the mission be equipped with the logistical capacities necessary for the prevention of attacks and the protection of convoys. As for the Russian Dmitry Polyanskiy, he recalled that " countries that have made commitments in this respect must honor them ».

Comment: like a European vacuum

After the Dutch withdrawal, the Belgian and German returns, we can ask ourselves the question why the Europeans have not succeeded in proposing a grouped offer to allow for a continuous and operational capacity in terms of helicopters. While everyone in Europe embroiders on the primordial interest of defending the UN and multilateralism, of stabilizing the Sahel region and assisting the G5 Sahel and Malian forces, of allowing security in the regions of origin of migrations , Europe is unable to furnish itself to offer the peacekeepers a small helicopter transport and protection force, i.e. around ten helicopters and 200 personnel. It's weak and... dangerous. Because this weakness is visible to all.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, back from Gao)

During this engagement, two German Tiger pilots lost their lives during the crash of their helicopter northeast of Gao July 2017.

The memorial in honor of the six soldiers who fell during the MINUSMA engagement: two Germans and four Dutch.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).