The Malian government has asked the United States to lift restrictions preventing the arrival of a new C295 military transport aircraft.
The Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Abdoulaye Diop, attempted to lift sanctions preventing the import the aircraft from its manufacturer Airbus.
The aircraft apparently only needs a transponder, to be provided by the US, to be delivered. It was supposed to have arrived by the end of June this year.
The attempt was part of Diop’s recent mission to the US to strengthen political dialogue between the two countries as Mali continues its political transition. During his stay in the US from 16 to 20 August, Diop met with, among others, the Director of African Affairs at the White House, David Diaz, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Robert Godec.
“I have requested the support of these personalities for the lifting of the blockade in order to allow the delivery of the CASA C-295 aircraft acquired with Mali’s own funds,” Diop said in a statement upon his return to the capital of Mali, Bamako.
The sanctions are an apparent response to allegations of the Malian army recruiting child soldiers, something the Malian government has denied. Diop, acknowledging that there are child soldiers in the country, said they were recruited by other armed groups (specifically the Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group and Allies) that later merged with the Malian army.
“In reality, it is not the government that is involved. It is about recruitment into certain armed groups that have joined the government,” said Diop.
US ambassador in Mali, Dennis Hankins, said Mali was under two US sanctions that prohibited it from benefiting from some kinds of security assistance. Hankins added that full cooperation between the two countries will resume once the political transition in Mali is completed with democratic elections in February 2022.
Mali recently underwent a coup in May this year, with now interim president Assimi Goita. The country has overthrown two presidents in the past year. Mali is also battling a decade-old Islamist insurgency in the north and central regions. The inability of the former government to end the insurgency was a leading factor that led to the recent coup and ousting of former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The new C295 is the second for Mali. The first has been in operation since December 2016, having already accumulated more than 1 770 flight hours and transported more than 38 000 passengers and 900 tonnes of cargo in less than four years of operations.
Mali’s Air Force has grown over the last several years, with fixed and rotary wing acquisitions. In October 2017, Keita welcomed new aircraft into the Air Force’s inventory, including a C295W transport, two Y-12E light utility aircraft and a Super Puma transport helicopter (out of two ordered). In July 2018 Mali received four Embraer Super Tucano light attack and trainer aircraft from Brazil after ordering them in 2015. In April 2019 Mali’s Air Force received a Cessna 208 Caravan configured for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) that was donated by the European Union to combat terrorism and insecurity. In 2017, Mali received the first of four Mi-35M attack helicopters from Russia.
Mali’s Air Force previously only had two An-26 aircraft in their fixed-wing transport fleet, in an unknown condition. A large reliance on France (Operation Barkhane) to fight Mali’s insurgency could also become an issue as the French government indicated intentions to pull out of Mali due to disagreements with the recent coup.