“But El Salvador is prepared to stay in Mali for five years, depending on the UN mandate.”
El Salvador’s Cololonel Palacios Garay
Three Salvadoran Air Force (FAS) MD 500E armed reconnaissance helicopters have arrived in Gao, Mali, to support the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
MINUSMA announced that the helicopters arrived on 11 December and released photographs of them being unloaded from an Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft with support from the Canadian military contingent at the base. The 50 personnel of the new unit, known as Gavilan I by the FAS, arrived at Gao on a chartered aircraft on the same day.
MINUSMA said the MD 500s will carry out surveillance and reconnaissance duties by day and night. The Salvadoran air crews are equipped with night-vision goggles (NVGs) and trained in tactical night flying.
Gavilan I fills the void left by the withdrawal of four German Airbus Tiger attack helicopters earlier this year. Canada has several armed CH-146 Griffon (Bell 412) helicopters currently based in Gao, but these are used mainly to provide escort to the Canadian CH-147 Chinooks deployed in Mali. Moreover, the Canadian contingents will be pulled out of Mali on July 2019.
Gavilan I is the third Salvadoran unit to be assigned to MINUSMA and joins Torogoz IV, another helicopter unit that has been flying three M D500Es from Timbuktu since 2015, as well as a ground-based airfield support unit also located there.
The deployment of Gavilan I increases El Salvador’s troop strength under MINUSMA to over 200.
Last year November, El Salvador’s Col. Palacios Garay told news agency Dialogo that although the mission was only supposed to last for one year, “But El Salvador is prepared to stay in Mali for five years, depending on the UN mandate.”
El Salvador’s FAS only have eight MD 500Es in its entire inventory, which indicates that two third of its entire fleet is now in Mali. The country plans to send a total of six MD 500Es to Mali, making it one of the most important aircraft contributor to United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).