The United Nation Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (Minusma) has received three MD500E helicopters from El Salvador, and will use them for day and night patrols, reconnaissance and medical evacuation.
The aircraft arrived in Tumbuktu on 18 May, according to Minusma, which said the aircraft were well adapted to Mali’s terrain and climate. In addition to the aircraft, the helicopters are supported by 90 Salvadoran Air Force personnel, including technicians, medical staff and pilots. An initial group of personnel departed for Mali in March. Prior to the deployment, Salvadoran personnel underwent five months of peacekeeping training with an emphasis on desert survival.
Minusma said the helicopters will be used for a variety of purposes, mainly protecting civilians, but they will also be used for reconnaissance due to their high speed, and rescue and medical evacuation – the latter is in increasing demand as in the last six months, a dozen medical evacuations have been made in the Timbuktu region alone. Minusma has lost more than 40 personnel since deployment began in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous UN peacekeeping missions.
Western Area Deputy Commander, Colonel Peter Öberg, said the vastness of Mali necessitates the use of such technology as helicopters that can quickly transport troops to remote hotspots. He also emphasised the deterrent capability of the helicopters.
Commander of the Air Unit of El Salvador, Colonel Hernandez Lara, said he was impressed with Minusma’s construction of facilities for the helicopters, including hangars, over a period of three months.
Minusma noted that this is the first Salvadoran air unit to be deployed on United Nations peacekeeping operations.
The MD500s will be stationed in Mali for a year, but could stay up to five years if required by the United Nations, according to Colonel Juan Ricardo Palacios Garay, chief of the General Staff of the Salvadoran contingent in Mali.
El Salvador has eight MD500s in its inventory.
There are currently nearly 10 000 troops serving with Minusma, which have access to AH-64 attack helicopters, NH90 and CH-47 transport helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), amongst other aviation resources.
On May 15 Minusma announced that a Swedish contingent was operating UAVs in Timbuktu. The Swedish commander, Lieutenant Colonel Carl-Magnus Svensson, said that the UAVs would be useful surveillance tools.
The aircraft deployed include the Ornen (AAI Shadow 200B), Svalan (Aerovironment Wasp) and Korpen (Aerovironment Puma). The Ornen (Eagle) began flying at Sweden’s Camp Nobel airfield on 1 May, with operational flying a week later.
Sweden has deployed some 250 personnel to Mali, including technicians, imagery analysts, sensor operators, operation supervisors and pilots for the UAV unit. Sweden and the Netherlands are in charge of providing intelligence for Minusma, with the Dutch primarily using their AH-64 Apache helicopters.
The United Nations is increasingly turning to UAVs to provide reconnaissance data for its missions, after successfully operating Selex ES Falco UAVs with Monusco in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).