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Mali: UN peacekeeper killed, 5 injured in attacks in Aguelhok and Bandiagara

A United Nations peacekeeper was killed and five others injured in two attacks in Mali on Sunday, October 6, the U.N. mission in the country said.

One peacekeeper was killed and four others injured when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb near Aguelhok in northern Mali, Olivier Salgado, the spokesperson for MINUSMA, the U.N.’s Mali mission, tweeted. The vehicle was part of a security patrol.

A Rapid Response Force, supported by an air response, was deployed to the blast site and the wounded were evacuated to MINUSMA hospitals, the mission said in a later Facebook post.

Aguelhok is in the Kidal region of Mali’s desert north, around 120 km (75 miles) north of Kidal town towards the border with Algeria.

Elsewhere, MINUSMA peacekeepers responded to an attack by “elements of an unidentified armed group” at a temporary operating base in the vicinity of Bandiagara in the central Mopti region at around 1 a.m., Salgado tweeted.

One peacekeeper was seriously injured and evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment, MINUSMA said in the Facebook post.

The MINUSMA stabilization mission in Mali which began in 2013 the U.N.’s third largest: In August, 12,543 troops, 1,750 police and 491 staff officers were deployed.

MINUSMA is considered one the most dangerous peacekeeping missions, and attacks against blue helmets in the center and north of the country are common. Sunday’s incident brings to 19 the number of peacekeepers that have died this year alone.

In the deadliest incident this year, 11 Chadian blue helmets died after an attack on a U.N. base in Aguelhok in January. That attack was claimed by Sahelien al-Qaeda affiliate JNIM.

Most recently, on May 19, a Nigerian peacekeeper was killed and another injured in an armed attack in Timbuktu in central Mali. Three Chadian peacekeepers were injured in a roadside bomb attack in Tessalit in northern Mali the same day.

Many armed groups are active in Mali and the wider Sahel region. Most insurgent attacks are attributed to the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (JNIM) which formed in March 2017 from a merger of several smaller groups including the Sahara branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine and Al-Mourabitoun. JNIM’s leadership has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Islamic State-affiliated groups are also active. Since May, ISIS has attributed insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its West Africa Province affiliate, rather than to what was previously known as Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

In 2012 a Tuareg separatist uprising against the state was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north of Mali.

France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, and the MINUSMA peacekeeping force was then established.

But the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, and the insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali and across the borders into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. Large swathes of Mali remain outside government control, and inter-ethnic bloodshed is a regular occurrence.

The Serval mission evolved in August 2014 into Operation Barkhane, which has a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the Sahel. Roughly 4,500 French troops are deployed in the region, including around 2,700 soldiers in Mali. Personnel from Estonia and helicopters from the United Kingdom support the Barkhane force, and Denmark has announced plans send two helicopters and up to 70 troops.

Barkhane focuses activity in insurgent-hit MaliBurkina Faso, and Niger, and troops work alongside other international operations, including MINUSMA and the G5 Sahel Joint Force, the long-planned 4,500-strong joint counter-terrorism force comprising troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.

France seeks international support for Sahel military coalition

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