As the United Nations (UN) mission in Mali is considered ‘the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world’, emergency shelters or bunkers save lives of the peacekeepers during any terrorist attack.
The shelters, surrounded by sandbags about four feet in diameter, protect the peacekeepers from any indirect fire (IDF) and mortar shell attacks in the West African country of Mali where the UN troops have the highest mortality rate.
In Mali, all peacekeepers have to pay maximum attention to their own security while performing their duties. That is why it is very difficult for the peacekeepers to carry out the assigned task.
Members of the Bangladesh Battalion-7 (BANBAT-7) are carrying out their duties amid high risk in Gao, 1,200 kilometres away from Bamako, the capital city of Mali.
In Gao, peacekeepers from different countries live in separate camps in the same enclosed area. Together these are called super camp. But the camps are not that peaceful as there is always the fear of attack.
This super camp is also attacked by armed terrorists. In order to crack the strong confidence of peacekeepers, they (terrorists) suddenly attack.
However, the peacekeepers are adopting various strategies to prevent terrorist attacks as well as self-defence. Shelters or bunkers have been set up at various places in the camp. The emergency shelter is made of sandbags about four feet in diameter.
Senior Colonel Zhu Jinsong, sector east commander in Mali, said, “The security situation in Mali, specifically in our area of responsibility, is really challenging, unstable and unpredictable.”
Mali’s Gao and Kidal are areas of a wide network of armed terrorists. The security risks to peacekeepers in these two areas are extremely high. That is why they have to be most careful.
Most of the time peacekeepers in the camp of Gao has to wear helmets and bullet-proof vests. Even this correspondent had to wear bullet-proof vests and helmets as safety protection.
Colonel Zubayer Hasnat, contingent commander of BANBAT-7 MINUSMA, said to conduct operations, there are various threats, including IEDs, Indirect Fires (IDFs) and complex attacks. The biggest threat to UN members deployed in Mali is IEDs.
He said terrorists in Mali are well-equipped, leading to a steady increase in IED attacks. The main targets of IED attacks are patrols and convoys of UN peacekeepers. These IEDs are usually placed in or on the side of the road.
“We have to be watchful all the time because anything can happen at any time. You never know what will happen next minute,” he added.
He said that on November 20 in 2020, an IDF attack happened in the Gao Super Camp from 6:00am to 7:00am in the morning. On that time all the members of the camp took position in the shelter and later took up defensive positions around the camp.
Some 12 Bangladeshi peacekeepers have lost their lives in Mali so far since 2013.
Lt Col Abdullah Ibn Zaid, director of Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR) Directorate, said Bangladeshi peacekeepers are spreading the message of peace in Mali by tackling various fears and hostile environments. They are playing an important role in tackling ethnic conflicts.
Bangladeshi peacekeepers are playing an exemplary role in the construction of roads, facilities and medical services in the conflict-ridden country, he added.
Currently, more than 1,200 personnel from the Bangladesh Armed Forces are deployed in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.