Mali Imports Russian Helicopters for Anti-Terrorism Mission
As the French exit Mali amid an Islamic insurgency, Russia is filling the void
The military junta governing Mali announced on Thursday that it had received two helicopter gunships from Russia to aid in its ongoing war against Islamist rebels in the country’s peripheral desert areas, according to AFP.
Malian defense minister Sadio Camara received the helicopters on Wednesday night, which were delivered by a Russian transport plane to the main airport in Bamako, Mali’s capital. The helicopters were reportedly accompanied by radar sets and other Russian military equipment, according to local sources. Russia has donated four military helicopters to the Malian government to date, and has supplied the army with military advisers—reportedly members of Russia’s “Wagner Group” private military company.
The Malian government announced on its website that the new equipment included “combat helicopters, the latest radars, and much other material needed for the fight against terrorism and extremism.” It thanked Russia for providing the equipment, describing the latest delivery as “the fruit of a sincere and very long-running partnership.”
Russian ties to Mali have strengthened since 2020, when a group of Malian officers led by Colonel Assimi Goita overthrew the country’s democratically-elected president and seized power in a military coup. The group initially shared power with other civilian authorities; it later purged them from the government in a second coup one year later. These coups, as well as the new government’s increasing ties to Russia, led French troops to leave the country in February.
Mali has contended with an Islamist insurgency since early 2012, when Tuareg rebels in the country’s north allied with Islamist groups, including Al-Qaeda’s affiliate branch in the Sahel region, to expel the Malian government and establish the proto-state of “Azawad.” That state was later taken over by the Islamists, leading French troops to intervene to restore order in 2014. Although the Malian government drove the rebels out, they fled to neighboring countries, spawning a wave of insurgencies across the Sahel region.
Although French troops have participated in “Operation Barkhane,” the multinational anti-terrorist campaign including Mali, for eight years, French president Emmanuel Macron announced in 2021 that the operation would be concluded the following year, and French troops returned home.
In exchange for Russian support, the Malian government has increasingly aligned with Russia internationally. Mali was one of thirty-five countries that abstained on two UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in February and March. These resolutions were supported by 140 other nations and only opposed by five.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.