In the landlocked central African nation of Mali there is still a large amount of Islamic terrorism and violent tribal feuds. Despite that there are problems getting the local security forces the equipment they need. That’s because Mali has a major problem with its government and the miniscule (about 7,000 troops for a country of 20 million) Mali armed forces. The commanders of this small military have staged three coups since 2012. The May 2021 coup was not well received by foreign aid donors. Most military aid has ceased and the number of foreign troops helping to deal with the Islamic terrorism is shrinking. The departing troops are mainly from France, which pays for its own 5,100 counterterrorism troops who operate throughout the region but primarily in Mali.
Because of the May 2021 coup, the government is dominated by military officers. That means no more free stuff from donors. The Mali military has to buy its own new equipment. In 2021 this mainly consisted of armored vehicles to lower army casualties from Islamic terrorist attacks. The military government could afford this because Mali is a major exporter of gold and a food exporter. Mali has been able to purchase about sixty armored vehicles from various nations, including China, which has delivered at least six of their new wheeled VN2C IFVs (infantry fighting vehicles).
VN2C is an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) design that also serves as a 6x6 IFV. VN2C is a 19-ton vehicle with the standard (for MRAP) V shaped hull to deflect the force of an exploding mine or roadside bomb. There is additional armor added so that the VN2C achieves the low end of what is generally considered MRAP level protection. Most Western MRAPS have Level 4 protection compared to Level 3 on the VN2C. The VN2C has a lot of features customers want, like a one-man turret equipped with a 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine-gun. The turret also has two four-cell grenade launchers. There are some firing ports for the passengers. Top speed is 100 kilometers an hour and an unrefueled range is up to 800 kilometers on roads, depending on average speed.
The VN2C appears to be a variant of the older Chinese Type 92 wheeled, 13-ton 6x6 vehicle that carries 12 soldiers and a 25mm cannon in a one-man turret. The Type 92 design was based on the French VAB vehicle rather than Russian models previously used. Introduced in the 1990s the Type 92 chassis, often referred to as the WZ551, was used as the basis for a lot of other weapons (artillery, anti-tank, support). Two or three of the 12 people on board are the crew. The manufacturer called the export version of the Type 92 the VN2B and the VN2C is considered a natural evolution of the B model.
The Mali military was not happy with foreign donor demands that the military undo the May 2021 coup and start cooperating with political factions that made possible the 2020 coup. That coup led to the formation of a government meant to end coups as well as massive government corruption. To that end the 2020 coup leaders and pro-reform politicians formed the interim, and foreign donor approved, CNT (National Transitional Council) government. The foreign donors insisted that a civilian lead the CNT with one of the military coup leaders as his deputy. The army and civilian members of the CNT did not get along. The main disagreement that triggered the May coup was about efforts to negotiate with Islamic terror groups and ineffective measures to prosecute corrupt politicians.
After the 2021 coup France concluded that the Mali leaders were incorrigibly corrupt and that the expensive French counterterror operation in the north was no longer worth the effort. Neighboring nations were willing to continue cooperate in suppressing Islamic terrorism but France began reducing and redeploying its 5,100 counterterrorism troops to assist less-corrupt neighbors serious about reducing the terrorism without feeding local corruption. This reduction involves reducing the French force 40 percent, to about 3,000 troops and those reductions are most visible in northern Mali, where some French bases have been shut as the troops depart.
As long as Mali has money to spend, Chinese arms firms will sell them whatever they can pay for. That’s long been the Chinese policy with any foreign customer. This also provide combat testing for Chinese equipment and weapons, which is noted by the Chinese manufacturers so that improvements can be made without getting Chinese soldiers killed. Equipment used in combat is also easier to sell to other export customers, as well as the Chinese military itself. China encourages many local firms to develop and export military equipment. Chinese forces have a choice of who to buy from and new gear with the best combat record gets the big orders from the Chinese military.