Two peacekeepers were injured on Wednesday, April 3 in a mortar and gun attack on a United Nations base in Kidal, in the desert north of Mali.
The attack came on the same day that the U.N. Security Council agreed to discuss revamping the MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali, including a possible major drawdown.
— Rida Lyammouri (@rmaghrebi) April 3, 2019
The attack began in the early afternoon. Several rockets landed in the MINUSMA base on the outskirts of the city, and one peacekeeper was injured, RFI reported. One resident estimated the attack lasted an hour and told RFI that they had “heard very loud detonations” followed by what sounded like automatic gunfire.
Unnamed sources told Nord Sud Journal that several shells had hit the base, and a MINUSMA source said that they had “heard shelling.”
Update April 4 At the daily press briefing, the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that the MINUSMA base in Kidal was attacked by unknown assailants.
“Nine mortar rounds were fired, with seven exploding within camp premises,” Dujarric said, adding that “Two Chadian peacekeepers sustained slight injuries and two helicopters were damaged.”
Later on Wednesday, in a somewhat enigmatic tweet, the MINUSMA Force Commander Lieutenant General Dennis Gyllensporre shared a video apparently shot from an aerial surveillance and reconnaissance platform which he said was footage from Kidal. The eight-second video showed what appeared to be a group of 28 armed people walking beside a berm outside the north east corner of the U.N. base. It is unclear who the people are.
The MINUSMA force “will never hesitate to act,” Gyllensporre said. “An attack on the force is an attack on peace in Mali.”
— Dennis Gyllensporre (@Gyllensporre) April 3, 2019
Kidal is around 285 km northeast of Gao, towards the borders with Niger and Algeria.
In January, gunmen killed 10 Chadian peacekeepers and injured at least 25 others in an attack on a U.N. camp in Aguelhok, around 120 km north of Kidal. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Mali, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) later claimed responsibility for the attack. JNIM was formed in 2017 by the merger of several smaller groups including the Sahara branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and Al-Mourabitoun. Its leadership has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
According to reports collated by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), U.N. peacekeepers have been targeted a number of times at the Kidal base and nearby since the middle of last year, with all attacks attributed to Ansar Dine.
In June 2018, the base in Kidal was damaged when militants targeted it with rockets or mortars, followed by an exchange of gunfire. No casualties were reported.
In July and August and November, peacekeepers were targeted in a number improvised explosive device attacks against U.N. vehicles in and near the city, but no casualties were reported.
The recent unrest in the Sahel region began in Mali in 2012 with Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, but the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
Large swathes of Mali remain outside government control, and the insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of the country and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
A peace deal was signed in 2015 between the government and some armed groups designed to isolate the militant Islamists, but the jihadist insurgency has shown no signs of weakening.
The French mission in Mali evolved in August 2014 into the current Operation Barkhane, which has 4,500 personnel deployed with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the Sahel region, with 2,700 soldiers in Mali to support poorly-equipped local military forces.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside the U.N. Minusma stabilization mission in Mali, which began in 2013 and has about 12,000 troops and 1,750 police deployed, as well as the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.
MINUSMA is considered one the most dangerous peace missions run by the United Nations. Sixteen blue helmets have died this year alone.