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Belgian soldiers injured by an IED in Mali in early January. Details to know

(B2 in Heverlee) The two Belgian soldiers, injured by the explosion of a homemade device between Tessi and Ansongo on January 1, are doing well. Their vehicle, on the other hand, is out of order. What happened that day? How were they rescued? A look back at an incident that could have had more dramatic consequences

Convoy in the desert (© Belgian Army)

Several days after the incident (Read: Two Belgian soldiers injured in Mali by an iED), the Belgian army had organized a briefing this Monday for some journalists, B2 made the trip to HQ. This allowed us to learn more about this incident.

Where did the incident take place?

The convoy made up of two platoons of acrobats and support modules (mechanical, logistical, medical) and force protection had left Gao a few days earlier for an observation and intelligence mission, known as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) (1). The eight vehicles - seven Belgians, one German (Medevac) - were driving from Tessi to Ansongo - we were then about 70 km from the Niger border and 120 km from Gao - when the lead vehicle exploded. By the way, the Dingo II triggered the working detonator, on a pressure plate system, and triggered the explosive charge.

The front of the vehicle completely exploded, the engine being propelled several dozen meters away (credit: Belgian army)

What was the damage?

A crater has dug. The front part of the vehicle was completely destroyed. And the engine thrown 50 meters ". This shows the extent of the shock. But, fortunately, men were on board a Dingo vehicle » provided with a certain protection (see box). “ The vehicle has a 'safety cell', a safety cell for personnel. The goal is that, even if the engine breaks, this safety cell remains intact. In this case it worked well” Commander Jean-François of the horse hunter battalion assures us. Hence a relatively limited assessment. “ Could have been more dramatic » indicates Major General Johann Peeters. And indeed, when we see the inside of the vehicle's survival cell we see that it was badly shaken. The photos prove it.

The life cell of the vehicle remained intact, even if the shock was severe, the cracks and traces on the windshield prove it (credit: Belgian army)

What happened right after the explosion?

« The soldiers reacted well, as they should » indicates Major General Peeters. It must be said that this type of situation is regularly the subject of exercises both before deployment and on site: what should be done in the event of an explosion? What security measures should you take? How to take cover? What is the medical procedure? Etc.

How was the medical care?

The injured soldiers were treated immediately by the doctor who was in the convoy. Then they were evacuated by a Romanian MINUSMA medical helicopter, which arrived on the scene about a good hour after the incident. Two hours after the incident, at 12:05 p.m., the injured were within the fortified camp of Gao where the UN force and the French Barkhane force are co-located. The Belgians were directed to the French field hospital (role 2).

Why Barkhane's Role 2?

Quite simply because there is a technical agreement between Belgium and Barkhane. A choice which is determined in advance and not piecemeal, explains an officer to B2. The other military hospital on the Gao base is a role 2 held within Minusma by the Chinese. It is " more practical » for the Belgians, to be welcomed and cared for by the French: there is a language community and a certain common operational tradition. In terms of time, it is identical, the two hospitals are barely 300 meters apart. It's just the landing area for the helicopter that differs.

Do we know more about the explosive device?

The investigation is ongoing. And not everything can be revealed. What we know is that the load was quite heavy: 30 kg. Which explains the extent of the damage. We also know that it is not a remotely controlled trigger device, but a simple pressure system. “ We pass over it, it jumps. We miss a few centimeters, and we pass unscathed » says an officer. However, we do not yet know very well if the device was installed during the night, or if it was already present several days previously. The Belgians had, in fact, passed by the same route the day before, in the other direction. Without suffering anything. Likewise, a convoy of Malian vehicles also passed. No damage either.

How are the military doing now?

« They are fine » assures General Peeters, deputy chief of staff for 'Operations and Training'. They escaped without too much damage: a strong concussion, (major) muscular tensions due to the shock. A (very) big whiplash which resulted, for one, as a result, of being unconscious for some time. But nothing serious. The injured were not repatriated. They remained there, with their comrades, and were able to return to service. They decided, themselves, to continue the mission, the Belgian general staff was informed. They should return as planned with the entire contingent by March.

How was the psychological follow-up ensured?

Two psychologists were, fortunately, already on site in Gao, for another task. A welcome coincidence. Their mission was extended until January 9, in order to be able to monitor the injured soldiers. They were able to examine and discuss with them. They have " found that they recovered well and that there was good cohesion ". Decision validated by the command and the medical corps.

Have the patrols resumed?

Yes. The Belgian detachment belonging to the Battalion of Chasseurs à Cheval (also known as the Istar Battalion Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, & Reconnaissance) resumed their patrols in Mali within the Istar battalion commanded by the Germans. " We reconditioned a reserve vehicle. And the day before yesterday (Saturday), they carried out a patrol. In the days that follow, they will do another short, one-day patrol. And, then, they will resume the rhythm of patrols, in a normal way, over several days explains Carl Gillis, head of the operations division.

Are there any risks?

They stay. " We cannot exclude that other incidents could happen » indicates the Belgian general staff. IEDs are a common threat in Mali. In 2019, there were more than 100 incidents of this type, including 99 in the Mopti-Segou zone, 19 in the Kidal zone, the same in Gao and Timbuktu, 10 in the Tesalit zone and 1 in Bamako. .

The vehicle repatriated to the Gao camp began to be examined by WIT investigators (credit: Belgian army)

What will happen at the internal and judicial level?

A double investigation was launched. On the one hand, “the Belgian federal prosecutor's office decided to send a small mission, with a rogatory mission to the country, for a case linked to terrorism » specifies Captain Carl Gillis, head of the operations division. On the other hand, that of the MINUSMA incident team, Weapon Incident Team or WIT, which dissects and analyzes each incident, whether with weapons or an IED. The WIT report will be shared with the Public Prosecutor's Office. " If possible, we will try to recover and repatriate the wreckage of the vehicle to Belgium for investigation. This will also serve to improve our procedures and provide valuable information for the future. » specifies the naval officer (2).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Well-protected vehicles

The DINGO and PIRANHA are today the only Belgian military vehicles to have an effective level of protection against IEDs. “ There is indeed a renewal or update program for other vehicles says Captain Carl Gillis, head of Defense Operations. Unfortunately, the government being in day-to-day business, the necessary budgets cannot be released. " We're wasting time! alerts the commander. " Military security is not a routine business. Zero risk does not exist but the risk must be reasonable. We must increase the chances of survival of our soldiers by providing them with appropriate equipment ».

  1. The objective of the Belgian ISR mission is to collect as much information and intelligence as possible, either by observing the situation on board the vehicle visually or using on-board radar, to detect and document all movements, suspects or not, either by contacting the population during foot patrols, or using a small tactical drone, RQ-11 Raven type, American made (Arerovironment), of small scale (1,3, 6,7 m and 10 kg), with a limited radius (XNUMX km). NB: In the convoy, at the beginning of January, this drone was not present.
  2. The name Carl Gillis may ring a bell with some readers. He was the commander of the Louise-Marie during the second rotation within the EUNAVFOR Atalanta operation. Read : The Louise-Marie back home. Interview with its commander Carl Gillis

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).

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