Three of the nine soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) platoon assigned on a peace mission in Mali and wounded in a rocket attack Wednesday have been flown to Level 1 Hospital in Dakar, Senegal for advanced medical treatment, Defense authorities in Monrovia have said.
Although, the Ministry of National Defense (MoD) is yet to release the names of the wounded soldiers, Assistant Defense Minister of Public Affairs David K. Dahn told the Daily Observer via mobile phone last evening that the three flown to Senegal were in critical condition, while the rest are being treated in Mali.
Before they were airlifted to Senegal yesterday, the soldiers had been evacuated from the troubled region of Timbuktu to Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Meanwhile the remains of Corporal Sheriff Ousma will be flown to Liberia, “but this will be done under United Nations arrangement, because our soldiers are assigned by the UN mandate to that troubled West African country,” Dahn said. He could not say when the UN will bring the corpse to Liberia.
Regarding the shelling and rocket fire by the Jihadists, Minister Dahn said, “There is an investigation ongoing at the higher level of the mission for security operations that is doing the after action and review to take corrective measures.”
He said while the investigation is ongoing, the MoD has briefed the next of kin (relatives) of the late Corporal Ousma and that “the relatives remain receptive though all of us regret the death of our soldier. The family understands he died on national duty.”
On Wednesday afternoon, rockets were fired on a United Nations camp in Timbuktu, killing at least one AFL soldier and also wounding nine others, the United Nations Mission said. The late Ousma was a signal soldier assigned with the 23rd Infantry Brigade.
Dahn said the soldiers came under attack when jihadists launched several rounds of 81-millimeter mortar shells that hit the AFL base near Timbuktu airport.
“Remember that our soldiers have least expected the attack. Even though they are aware of their security role in the area, Wednesday’s attack was not conventional, but shelling from the rebels’ long range,” Dahn told the Daily Observer.
It is the latest attack to hit the mission, known as MINSUMA, stationed in Mali since 2013, which considers it the most dangerous active peacekeeping deployment since Liberia restructured its armed forces.
“A mortar and rocket attack was launched against the MINUSMA camp in Timbuktu,” a UN statement said.
The UN mission said it had reinforced the camp’s defenses and deployed air cover to identify where the enemy fire had originated, describing it as a “terrorist” attack.
The Liberian platoon is stationed under the Nigerian contingent in Timbuktu; a historical and still-inhabited city of Mali situated 20 kilometers (12 mi) north of the River Niger. The town is the capital of the Timbuktu Region, one of the eight administrative regions of Mali. It had a population of 54,453 in the 2009 census.
Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012, and although these forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year, the Islamists have now spread further south.
The 13,000-strong UN mission was deployed to provide security and assist Malian troops struggling to keep the country safe; but it has been targeted constantly by the jihadists with dozens of peacekeepers killed.
Three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links recently joined forces to create the “Group to Support Islam and Muslims” (GSIM), led by Iyad Ag Ghaly of Ansar Dine, and have killed Malian soldiers further east near the Burkina Faso border.
Nine Malian soldiers were killed and five wounded Tuesday, an attack that has become near routine in the country’s north and center.
Starting out as a seasonal settlement, Timbuktu became a permanent settlement early in the 12th century. After a shift in trading routes, it flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory, and slaves. It became part of the Mali Empire early in the 14th century. In the first half of the 15th century the Tuareg tribes took control of the city for a short period until the expanding Songhai Empire absorbed the city in 1468. A Moroccan army defeated the Songhai in 1591, and made Timbuktu, rather than Gao, their capital.