Mali’s Desert Climate Is the Doom of Armored Vehicles
German peacekeepers' troop transports are breaking down
Half of the German army’s armored vehicles in Mali—there as part of a multi-national peacekeeping mission—have broken down because of the West African country’s dust and extreme heat, according to Die Welt.
By land, the Bundeswehr relies on Wolf and Eagle jeeps, Fennek reconnaissance vehicles and TPz Fuchs armored personnel carriers to move around. But Mali’s heat—the country’s summer season lasts from March to May—has ruptured ties and damaged components, the newspaper reported.
The peacekeeping contingent’s four Eurocopter Tiger helicopters are not rated to fly during the most intense periods of Mali’s summer afternoon heat, so they sit on their pads. Small quadcopter drones, intended to be carried on the Fuchs’ rooftops, have also been rendered unusable because of melted batteries. German army regulations prohibit storing the drones inside the vehicles with soldiers.
The U.N. mission in Mali—or MINUSMA—is the most dangerous peacekeeping mission in the world, with peacekeepers in the middle of conflicts involving Tuareg separatists and Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist insurgents. Germany has fewer than 400 troops in Mali as of February 2017, but that number could rise to around 1,000.
Heat and dust would be manageable problems, but the German army doesn’t have a reliable enough supply of spare parts.
To compound the problems, the German military’s drone operators are overworked due to ongoing commitments in Afghanistan and the war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which involves Germany’s Panavia Tornado reconnaissance planes. The drone operators also analyze the Tornados’ imagery.
Heat making the best of armored vehicles before the enemy does is a long-running trend in Mali.
From 1968 to the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the largest supplier of arms and hardware to the military dictatorship of Moussa Traore, who sought to build an army to defend Mali’s borders. Traore was toppled by a popular revolution in 1991.
The Soviets, seeking to expand their influence in Africa, were more than willing to lend a hand, arming Traore’s men with variety of T-55 tanks and BRDM-2 and BTR-60 armored vehicles, among others—as well as shaping Malian military doctrine along Soviet lines.
Mali had gained its independence from France in 1960, and as the head of a new state, Traore viewed the army to be an important symbol of his country’s autonomy. Independent states have armies—often large, conventional ones—and since Mali was independent, the logic went that Mali should have a conventional army, too.
The Malian army still possesses dozens of Soviet-era vehicles, but they don’t often leave their bases. “Among other things, the vehicles have no air conditioning, and the desert heat all but immobilizes their crews,” the Santa Monica, California-based RAND Corporation noted in a recent study.
“The thin-skinned vehicles are no match for more quickly moving pickup trucks firing heavy machine guns or dismounted fighters with RPG-7s.”
Traditionally, warfare in Africa’s Sahel region was carried out by camel-riding Arab and Tuareg raiding parties. This form of razzia combat was embraced by the modern Chadian army, which replaced camels with Toyota pickup trucks and proceeded to defeat the Soviet-supplied Libyan army in the 1980s.
Essentially, Traore’s ambitions and foreign sponsors artificially warped the Malian army into a force that doesn’t fit its environment.
Razzia is “the essence of Sahalian warfare,” RAND stated, citing a French military manual. However, “that is something Mali’s army is particularly poor at conducting.”
By comparison, the Garde Nationale du Mali, or Malian National Guard, still has camel units as part of its military organization, but has swapped out the even-toed ungulates for pickup trucks and motorcycles.
The Garde’s speed and flexibility, its keeping with the principles of Sahelian warfare, combined with greater trust in Mali’s north—where the army is widely loathed—means they are today among the most effective troops in Mali’s armed forces, along with the special forces.