mardi 22 octobre 2019

French Operation Barkhane - Snapshots from a hot day in Timbuktu, Mali (+ update #2)

NB: Translation from French to English of a previously published blogpost (see here for the French version).

The forward operating base (FOB) of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (UNMISMA) in Timbuktu (Central Mali), known as "Super Camp" due to its size, and the adjoining French FOB of the Operation Barkhane, both located near the civilian/military airport, were targeted by a complex and massive attack on April 14, 2018. 

After dozen shots of mortars and rockets from 2pm onwards, 3 VBIEDs (or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices) painted in UN colors or disguised as Malian Armed Forces (FAMA) vehicles tried to force the French FOB’s entrances (vehicles captured during a previous attack on an Malian base, and for some of them painted with new colors). The aim was to pave the way for an assault by two dozen jihadists from Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (or JNIM, a group linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). Some foot soldiers wore explosive belts, disguised with uniforms from local forces, and wanted to take advantage of the chaotic situation caused by the two first VBIEDs to enter in the FOB despite fortified checkpoints, bastion walls, barbed wires… and cause a chaotic situation. 22 attackers will be identified at the end of the intelligence work during the after action report.

The result of the first VBIED's massive explosion on the entrance of the French FOB, and the VAB armored vehicle visible on the background placed in the middle of the entrance to prevent the passage of other vehicles.

The fight would not end until 6 hours later, after several heroic actions described in part below. Indeed, there are several points to highlight about the response of French armed forces during this harsh day. Usually housing the equivalent of an infantry company with support elements, the French FOB was almost empty that day, with French patrols outside the compound ongoing and long-term operations in the surrounding region (more than 600km to the east).