30 April 2013

Mali: Germany Starts EU Malian Army Training

Under the scorching West African sun, military engineers from Germany's Bundeswehr armed forces are preparing Malian soldiers for combat.

It is early in the morning in Koulikoro, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Bamako, but the temperature has already climbed to 40 C (104 F).

30 Malian soldiers are standing in front of a mound of sand, which they are shoveling into long, narrow sandbags. Sweat is streaming off the men, but nobody is complaining.

It is all part of Bundeswehr training in Mali which began on April 29.

The Bundeswehr is responsible for training in military engineering under the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM).

Salif Kouyate is one of the Malian soldiers on the course. Repeatedly wiping the sweat from his brow, he is neither vexed nor bad-tempered. "This is why we are here - and we are pleased the Europeans are here too," he said.

Several armies from across Europe have combined forces to build a huge training camp in Koulikoro over the past few weeks.

This was made possible by a European Union decision to launch a comprehensive military training mission for war-torn Mali. Every nation is responsible for a particular part of the training program.

Basic military skills

The 30 Malian soldiers who are being instructed by the German engineers will learn how to erect barbed wire barricades, search for mines and detonate explosives.

This may sound like basic military training, but nonetheless it appears that the Malian army is in desperate need of it. For years, the Malian army was weak, poorly equipped and ill-trained.

They were defeated by rebels from the separatist Tuaregs' National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) early in 2012 and many Malians soldiers were fearful of being sent to the north of the country, where the fighting was taking place.

Even though the north - in spite of the French intervention - is still considered a volatile region, Salif Kouyate says he is no longer deeply troubled at the prospect of being sent there. "With the training and equipment that we are getting, that's not a problem any more. We're being trained for it," he said.

There are also other skills the Malian army needs to sharpen.

Just a 100 meters (109 yards) away, a group of young soldiers are gathered around a Malian paramedic. One of the soldiers is lying on the ground playing the part of a casualty. He is motionless, nobody knows whether he has been injured and if so, how badly. The paramedic explains the steps they need to take when assisting the wounded. Stopping the bleeding

Major Fabian Spies from the Bundeswehr Medical Corps is watching the group at work. He says the aim is to teach the soldiers first aid procedures they can apply with a minimum of medical supplies and equipment.

They are already aware of some of the basic essentials. "They know, for example, that you can use a rifle sling or a belt to stop bleeding," he said. But the soldiers need to be taught how to do things in the right order, in a structured manner, which will give them greater self-confidence when carrying out the task in the field.

All 2,600 Malian soldiers who are being trained under the EUTM are to be given a course in first aid before the mission ends in February 2014. Malian paramedics and doctors will receive more advanced training.

There is already a moveable military clinic in the vicinity which they can inspect. "We are here at the entrance to the airborne mobile aid station," said Captain Jörg Hein while leading visitors through the inflatable hospital, which is divided into several sections. In an emergency, soldiers will be treated here.

2,600 Malian soldiers are expected to receive military training over the next 10 months

But that seems an unlikely event in Koulikoro. The Bundeswehr appears to never tire of saying that this mission is quite different to the one in Afghanistan. "The threat here is minimal," says Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Müller-Cramer who is in command of German troops in Mali.

Salif Kouyate doesn't feel there is a threat of any kind to the training camp. He shakes his head vigorously on being asked about it. But he and his fellow soldiers are feeling the heat of the sun.

Just before noon it becomes intolerable, the soldiers are told to fall in and are then dismissed for their first short break on their first day of training.

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