Austrian special forces prepare for deployment in Mali


The Austria Army has deployed a reconnaissance team to conduct a ground appreciation study ahead of the possible deployment of up to 20 members of special forces (Jagdkommando) to fight resurgent terrorist groups in northern Mali.

According to IHS Janes, the ‘Jagdkommando’ could soon be deployed with several air-transportable units of the VT Hunter 4X4 Open Tactical Vehicles (OTVs) to support the multinational special forces component of the French Army’s Operation Barkhane in Mali.

The analysis group said the deployment of Austrian special forces in the specialised OTVs could help prevent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar-al Dine and other terrorist groups from regrouping in northern Mali following their defeat in 2013.

Built on Mitsubishi chassis upgraded by Austrian special vehicles manufacturer Valentin Tusch GMBH Sonderfahrzeugbauhe, the Hunter OTV is a specialised counter-terrorism vehicle which can carry up to seven soldiers.

Its main armament includes a ring mount for a 12.7 mm heavy machinegun, which can be in mechanical or electronic configuration, as well as multiple stations for 7.62 mm machineguns and assault rifles.

The OTV, which can be equipped with flotation devices to support amphibious operations, also has improved force-protection capabilities which can be upgraded with the integration of STANAG Level 1 protection, except for the roof area.

In addition, the OTV is also equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite communications systems and two can be easily transported in medium-sized aircraft as well as heavy-lift helicopters such as the CH-47.

Meanwhile, the French Ministry of Defence has announced the deployment of three unitary rocket launchers (URL) to Tessalit province of northern Mali to provide long-range fire support for Operation Barkhane ground forces operating in mountainous areas.

The defence ministry said since their deployment a few months ago, the URLs have fired 18 rounds over distances of between 50km and 70 km and recorded successful hits on terrorist targets in the Adrar des Ifoghas. The URL can fire munitions of up to 90kg to a maximum range of 84km.

Apart from the new URLs, the French Army has deployed fire-support systems which include 120 mm mortars, CAESAR wheeled self-propelled guns and attack helicopters in addition to combat aircraft.

Nearly 3,000 soldiers, 20 helicopters, 200 logistics vehicles, 200 tanks, six fighter jets, three drones and ten transport aircraft are engaged in the French counter-insurgency operation in five countries of the Sahel region in North-West Africa.

In April this year, Germany approved the re-deployment of some of its 350 troops attached to the European Union Training Mission in (EUTM-Mali) in the capital Bamako to new counter-terrorism operations in the north of the country.

Mali descended into chaos in April 2012 following the seizure of the northern part of the country by separatist Tuareg rebel groups and Al-Qaeda linked-transnational militant groups. Tuareg separatist groups worsened the security situation by declaring a separate state which held until the French intervention early in 2013.

However, the security situation has deteriorated since mid-2015 as militant groups have re-grouped and launched new attacks against the Malian Army and international peacekeeping forces.