In conflict-hit central Mali, a soldier pulls the firing lanyard on a howitzer, but no round shoots to the horizon. This is a training session aimed at giving Mali’s military the upper hand in its years-long fight against rebels.
It’s been organised by the European Union’s training mission in Mali, or EUTM, and led for the past nine weeks by Captain de la Pena.
“We train indirect fire to give them the opportunity to support the infantry units in longer distance without being exposed to the enemy. So we give them the opportunity to use the howitzer in its maximum capacity.”
The EU has provided training in intelligence, driving, explosives detection and artillery to nearly 14 000 Malian soldiers since 2012. That was the year when French forces drove jihadists out of the country’s desert north.
But despite the presence of 13 000 United Nations peacekeepers and 5 100 French troops, militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have rebounded, fueling a security crisis in Mali and across the wider Sahel region.
Deadly attacks increased eightfold between 2015 and 2020 and over five million people have been displaced. Parts of northern and central Mali are ungovernable and more than 70 Malian soldiers have been killed this year alone.
Colonel Traore, who heads Mali’s 6th military area, says the relationship between the EU and Mali is an exchange of knowledge.
“Armies are neighbours, armies are complementary. I understand that EUTM is there to complement our knowledge and our efforts. The war we are waging is global: it is the war against terrorism. It is not just at home.”
On the final day of exercises, the soldiers of the 614th Artillery Battalion seemed confident and relaxed.
But Colonel Traore has a warning. With training now drawing to a close, it is time to ready themselves for the battlefield.
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