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French desert troops take to boats in Mali

French desert troops recently took to boats to patrol the Niger River in Mali, the first time that the crafts have been used in the Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel, the French armed forces said.

France desert troops take to boats in Mali
French soldiers attached to Desert Battle Group – Infantry (GTDI) deployed on Operation Barkhane in the Sahel use boats on the Niger river in Mali, August 2018. Image: État-major des armées

Anticipating the rainy season and river flooding, soldiers attached to the French army’s Desert Battle Group – Infantry (GTDI) deployed the boats which enable them to get to areas difficult to reach by land.

The riverine operation consisted of transporting a detachment of soldiers to an area that will serve as a point of entry for reconnaissance missions.

The boats – 10 metres long and weighing 550 kg – are powered by a 40-horsepower outboard engine and can carry up to 2 tonnes, enabling 18 personnel and their equipment to be transported. Just 3 boats can carry an infantry section.

France desert troops take to boats in Mali
French soldiers attached to Desert Battle Group – Infantry (GTDI) deployed on Operation Barkhane in the Sahel train before using boats on the Niger river in Mali, August 2018. Image: État-major des armées

The GTDI trained on land ahead of the operation. They launched south of Gao at dawn and travelled to the villages of Batadia and Warabia where foot patrols were then carried out.

Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012, exploiting a Tuareg separatist uprising. France began a military intervention the next year that evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment with a mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region, encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Around 4,500 French personnel are deployed, and they work alongside the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train 5,000 troops, as well as peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Minusma stabilization mission in Mali.

The U.K. recently sent three Royal Air Force Chinook heavy lift helicopters and 90 personnel to support Operation Barkhane, and Estonia deployed around 50 soldiers who are tasked with ensuring the security of the Gao military base.

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