As the sun rises over Mali’s vast desert, a group of 20 men prepare equipment and line up to receive instructions before heading out for the first patrol of the day on one of the most dangerous roads in the region.
They are Guinean blue helmets from the United Nations Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) based in volatile Kidal in the north. The heart of the Saharan desert is under constant threat by hostile forces.
Following the outbreak of conflict in 2012, explosive hazards and complex attacks are a new threat in the country, with a broad-ranging, detrimental impact on safety and freedom of movement in the central and northern parts.
For Guinean Captain, Mamady Keita, the threat of landmines is always present, “No mission undertaken without our presence, the road is sandy and easy for insurgents to bury explosive devices,” he said standing outside his APC, his best defence during the operation.
Under a blazing sun the temperature is reaching its peak, the “Search and Detect” Guinean team, on foot, carefully search for explosive devices and hiding places for bombs, looking at the sandy roads. “Out here, dropping your guard can be fatal. There is always a chance the situation turns for the worst”, Lieutenant Maurice Brehemon said.
All Guinean soldiers, like all military contingents joining MINUSMA, do intense in-country pre-deployment training on explosive threats and risks. They must be prepared for the most common risk when they arrive in Mali.
These pre-deployment training measures better equip the blue helmets with skills to protect them, help them protect others and improve resilience and safety for delivery of MINUSMA’s mandate.
The work comes with daily challenges. This morning patrol was uneventful and the Guinean blue helmets returned safe and sound to base. The next day a UN vehicle runs over a mine. Fourteen peacekeepers were injured.
Almost 850 peacekeepers from Guinea are serving in Mali. Guinea is one of the largest contributing countries to MINUSMA. Mamady knows he is risking his life while promoting peace. Guinea is a neighbour country with strong ties to Mali. Its soldiers are often called “brothers in arms”.
Established in 2013, MINUSMA supports the Malian peace agreement by helping to restore State authority, advance diplomacy, strengthen security and promote human rights.
Committed to peace
Every day the women and men of the United Nations mission in Mali are on the frontline to protect civilians and promote peace in one of the most challenging missions on the planet. Since July 2013, 103 peacekeepers have been killed in hostile incidents.
For Pelagie Diawara, one of the 16 women in the Guinean battalion, the beginning of her first UN mission was difficult. She missed her family and the intense desert heat was a challenge. “It was a tough decision to leave my family, but I am proud to be here to help our brothers and sisters from Mali to make peace”.
Between landmines and improvised explosive devices, driving on the roads of northern Mali is a dangerous exercise. Currently about 14 000 UN peacekeepers from more than 56 countries serve in Mali.
These women and men work in a dangerous environment, far from their families and all are conscious of how their personal sacrifice is crucial to helping build a durable peace.