Is flying over Mali risky for civilian aircraft?

Is flying over Mali risky for civilian aircraft

The United States Civil Aviation Authority (FAA) ruled that the planes were running a ” increased risk “serving or flying over Mali” at all altitudes due to the presence of a ” sophisticated air defense system used by the Wagner group, as the newspaper revealed this week The echoes. Bamako has never acknowledged having this type of weapon and Air France maintains its flights. But according to specialist Akram Kharief, “ there is no credible information in this sense.

It was a note from the American civil aviation (FAA) dated February 23, which gave the alert, revealed by the French newspaper The echoes. She notes a “ increased risk overflight of Mali due to the presence near Bamako of Russian anti-aircraft missiles of the Pantsir or SA-22 type, capable of hitting aircraft up to 15 000 meters above sea level within a radius of 36 kilometers. According to this note, they would be in the hands Wagner Group mercenaries.

The Malian transitional authorities have never officially communicated on the acquisition of this type of weapon.

There american note also cites the portable air defense system of the Manpads type – surface-to-air missiles deployed in the rest of the country and in particular in the Mopti region – to protect Malian airspace against any unwanted intrusion.

Fear of tragic errors, as with the MH17

More than direct attacks against civilian flights, which are highly improbable, it is the risk of tragic errors that is feared. In 2014, for example, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was mistakenly shot down over Ukraine by Russian military and separatist militiamen. Nearly 300 people had been killed.

The FAA note also mentions other risks, Mali being ” the theater of battles », « extremist activities ” or ” deterioration of the rule of law “. The American agency also points to the fact that the Sahelian branch of the Islamic State terrorist group claimed last July the destruction of a drone from the Wagner group.

No company announces measures accordingly

No company serving Mali has announced any particular measure since the publication of this note. Air France, whose planes provide a daily connection with Bamako, indicates that it followed “ with the greatest care » FAA recommendations, but « at this stage, service to Bamako remains unchanged “.

Thursday, March 16, the pilots’ union SNPL nevertheless called for the exercise of the right of withdrawal of personnel not wishing, “ in the current state of affairs », be assigned to flights to Bamako.

No credible information that there is this type of equipment in Mali »

According to the Algerian journalist Akram Kharief, a specialist in defense and armament issues, particularly in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, “ there is no credible information that there is this type of equipment in Mali “. The founder of the Menadefense site was interviewed by David Baché.

Akram Kharief : The FAA speaks of Pantsir, or SA-22 according to NATO codification. It is a light medium and short range mobile air defense system that can reach a kind of bubble of 15 kilometers. It is intended primarily to counter drones and small aircraft, not high-flying fighters or airliners. But it remains a piece of equipment that presents very high risks during approaches near airports or overflights at medium altitude.

RFI: Is it certain that the Malian army, and its Russian auxiliaries, have such equipment? ?

Not at all: there is no credible information that there is this type of equipment in Mali. When we read the press release, we have the impression that the FAA makes a kind of transposition compared to Wagner in Libya, by implying the presence of this equipment also in Mali, but does not bring proof and does not specify the where this equipment would be located.

The note says, however, near Bamako »…

Yes. Near Bamako, they talk about Wagner headquarters, which is near the airport. They also talk about Kati, which is also a sort of headquarters for the junta and the Malian army. So it doesn’t indicate that there are Pantsir there.

Perhaps the American services have their own information?

It would have leaked, because the Pantsir requires air delivery. Mali being a landlocked country, it would have required a jumbo jet. There are enough tracking instruments to note the presence or delivery of large equipment in Mali, but there were none in 2022, nor in 2023.

So you consider this disproportionate American civil aviation alert?

I think it’s excessive, but I also think it’s based on two things. On the real presence of this equipment in Libya, and on its use also by Wagner in Syria. It is also based on rumors that are increasingly heard from promoters of the Malian junta, who talk about the presence of anti-aircraft equipment for the past two or three weeks, on social networks.

It must be remembered that the FAA is supposed to prevent risks, so I think their degree of sensitivity is quite high.

The Malian authorities defend their skies, they are wary of unwanted intrusions, French for example…

Yes, but in this case the Pantsir would not be the ideal weapon. The Malian army could buy countless pieces of equipment which would cost much less and which would be much more efficient.

Akram Kharief: “No credible information that there is this type of equipment in Mali”

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