At least six security personnel with the UN and national forces were killed in two attacks in northern Mali Friday.
Three peacekeepers with a UN force were confirmed to be killed in a “complex attack” by suspected Islamic Militants in an attack on their base in Kidal, north-eastern Mali. Thirty other peacekeepers were injured in the attack on the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) base, the UN confirmed. A member of the UN force told AFP the casualties were Guinean. Unconfirmed reports said the death toll rose to five later on Friday.
The coordinated attack in Kidal began at 7am and involved rocket (or mortar) fire and a gun attack. Sangho Abdoulaye, described as a teacher in Kidal, shared photos of thick smoke rising over the base. He described “dozens of rockets” and an “exchange of fire” in the attack. Gunfire was also heard in eyewitness video recorded at the scene.
Sources also reported that a suicide vehicle bomb was exploded at the camp. Early photos of the attack showing a mushroom cloud of smoke followed by a long trail of smoke support reports of a sizeable explosion.
Meanwhile, an ambush in Timbuktu claimed the lives of three soldiers serving with Mali’s army.
Friday’s attacks are the second on MINUSMA targets in eight days. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed an attack on a police camp in Timbuktu one week ago on Feb. 5, when four militants and a peacekeeper died. The attacks coincide with the visit of Mahamat Saleh Annadif, Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General for Mali. Annadif expressed “outrage” over the “hateful and irresponsible act.”
“This serious act reflects the disarray of the enemies of peace since it comes at a time when the implementation of the Peace Agreement increasingly becomes a reality in Mali,” Annadif said.
The UN peacekeeping force was established in 2013 following a military coup and conflict led by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a rebel group that seeks independence for a Tuareg homeland in northern Mali. Supported by Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine, the MNLA took control of much of northern Mali after pushing the national army south.
The challenges faced in Northern Mali are complex, however MNLA’s opportunistic power grab was enabled in part by the destabilization of Libya. The resulting vacuum allowed other rebel groups, like AQIM, to gain ground. The conflict saw the displacement of some 200,000 people, many of who have yet to return home.