Since my last post about the CAR in September 2013, a lot has happened in that country. The conflict has further intensified and developed along sectarian lines resulting in civil war between Christians and Muslims and it threatens to further develop into genocide. In my September post I have doubted the reports about clashes between Christians and Muslims in CAR, but it all turned out to be true. I think my doubts were actually wishful thinking, I did not want to point my finger at Muslims for killing Christians on the basis of subjective reports and I really hoped the reports were incorrect. Fighters with a Muslim background are responsible for a lot of conflict in Africa but I do not believe this is the nature of Islam and therefore I try not to fall into the trap of accusing any party of killing purely on the basis of religion. However, this turned out to be the situation in CAR after all.
The current situation in CAR is that both parties, Christians and Muslims are being displaced from their homes. Both communities blame each other for the atrocities that have happened during the last months. ex-Séléka fighters or affiliates are attacking Christian civilians and the counter movement, called anti-Balaka militias, attacks Muslims on a wide scale. Last Friday anti-Balaka attacked the village of Boali, killing at least five and injuring over twenty. Survivors found refuge in a church, which is defended by French and African Union forces.
The European Union has decided to give financial and military aid to help to stabilize CAR. About $200 million will be donated for urgent humanitarian needs and $296 million for humanitarian measures, stabilization and the restoration of basic human services. Furthermore, to stabilize the situation in CAR, the EU foreign ministers agreed on sending military aid as well. Between 500 and 1,000 troops will be send to reinforce the already 1,500 French troops that are active in CAR. Germany has said it will contribute with transportation units, but will not be sending any combat forces. The EU has urged that it will only deploy forces for a limited time until the promised 6,000 African Union troops well be deployed.
On November 1st, the Dutch cabinet has decided to contribute around 380 military personnel and four Apache helicopters to the United Nations mission in Mali: MINUSMA. For the duration of the Dutch contribution, I will try to write as much as possible about this mission, from a Dutch perspective and with the focus on Dutch operations. All information below is openly available at http://www.defensie.nl.
The Dutch mission will be focused on intelligence gathering by special forces, sensor systems and the four Apaches and analysis of this intelligence to provide MINUSMA with the information it needs. The Dutch headquarters are located at Bamako and Gao while the special forces are operative in the field. The first batch of fourteen quartermasters (one platoon from 41th Armoured Engineer Battalion, the rest probably from 11th Armoured Engineer Battalion) were flown to Mali on January 6th to make camp. Six days later the first transport flight with goods arrived at Gao airport. The following months the quartermasters will prepare the bases for the arrival of the rest of the forces which is planned in April. The mission is scheduled to end mid-2015.
The main force will consist of 90 special operation forces (commando’s and marines), among which Marco Kroon. They will gather field information behind ‘enemy lines’. They are divided in three groups and will conduct long range reconnaissance operations. Their main tasks will be reconnaissance, military assistance and direct action. They have several vehicles for movement: the Bushmaster, the Fennek and Mercedes-Benz (probably G280 CDI Softtop).
Four Apache helicopters will conduct reconnaissance missions, provide escort for other forces and if necessary ‘show of force’ and direct fire support. But most of all, they will also be gathering intelligence.
The rest of the Dutch military will consist of intelligence analysts and supportive personnel (explosives specialists, communications officers, staff officers, medical team and logistics). Some of them will be located at the headquarters in Bamako, at the All Sources Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU). Other Dutch ASIFU units will be based at Timbuktu and Gao where intelligence data is collected and analysed before being send to the headquarters in Bamako. In Gao the ASIFU unit will be 50 pax. strong and they will gather information with Scan Eagle and Raven UAV’s and a human terrain team.
Several issues that could lead to problems came to the surface in the past weeks. For the overall mission, the biggest issue is: will the planned 12.000+ pax. be found to make MINUSMA a successful mission? The Netherlands were among the first to make a contribution to the mission, but at the moment it is far from certain that the planned number of troops for MINUSMA will be reached.
Furthermore, the language barrier could also pose problems. While French is the official tongue in Mali, the Dutch troops do not speak that very well. This could lead to misunderstandings which could be damaging for any HUMINT gathered or even lead to dangerous situations. However, personally I think this problem will not be that big.