The Bundestag discusses the future of the Bundeswehr in Mali

The mission in Mali is currently considered the most dangerous foreign mission of the Bundeswehr. The Bundestag must decide whether to extend the mandates by the end of May. Experts warn against withdrawing from the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

to Moritz Elesin Monday May 9, 2022, 5:30 pm|Last update: Monday May 9, 2022 at 4:20 pm Reading time: 3 minutes |

An end had been in sight for some time: After reports of a massacre of civilians, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) announced last week that the German army was no longer involved in training Malian soldiers as part of the EU mission. EUTM. But for now, the federal government wants to stick with the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA. The mandates are due to be discussed in the Bundestag next Wednesday. The question of how to ensure the security of German soldiers after the departure of France must also be an issue.

Mali in West Africa has been experiencing political conflicts and crises for years. After a military coup in 2012, several armed groups, including Islamists, took control of parts of the north. At the request of the government at the time, the former colonial power France sent soldiers into the country and pushed the rebels back. In order to stabilize the country and protect the civilian population, the UN Security Council launched the MINUSMA Blue Helmets mission in 2013. In the same year, the European Union decided to establish the EU Mission Training Mission, where Malian soldiers would be trained.

Uncertain mission

About 1,100 German soldiers are stationed in Mali as part of the two missions. By the end of May, when the powers of the deployment expire, the Bundestag must decide their future. It is not surprising that the federal government wants to end its involvement in the EU training mission: the military has seized power twice in the past year and a half. There were also reports of massacres of civilians, most recently in Mora in central Mali, and the alleged presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group close to the Kremlin. The future of the mission is also uncertain at the EU level. Military training has been suspended since mid-April, but the end of the EU training mission has not been announced.

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Experts criticize the EU mission. This has not been really effective at all, says Ulf Lessing, head of the regional program for the Sahel at the CDU’s Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), in Bamako. Julian Bergmann of the German Development Institute (DIE) also draws mixed conclusions. Above all, the implementation of rule of law standards and the strengthening of civilian control over the armed forces has not worked well. It was likely that this was not in the interest of the army leadership, which would have lost its power as a result. The recent coups carried out by the army are an indication of this.

Germany, one of the largest troop contributors

The situation is different with Minosma. It is true that even the blue helmets do not manage to calm the situation in the country. But despite all the criticism, they contribute “to some extent to the stability of the North,” Lessing says. The German contribution is crucial to the future of the UN mission as a whole, which is mainly supported by African countries such as Chad and Senegal, but also from Bangladesh. Lessing says Minusma would be “hardly viable” without the Bundeswehr. With about 1,000 soldiers, Germany is one of the largest providers of forces and also contributes to aerial reconnaissance with drones.

Lessing warns that the withdrawal of the German armed forces may make it more difficult to implement development projects in Mali, such as the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). This is also a problem, because poverty and increasing land disputes between pastoralists and farmers due to climate change are fueling many conflicts. “Development projects make an important, long-term contribution to the stability of the country,” says Bergman.

Staff safety ‘top priority’

The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), which has been active in Mali since 1960, is working to stay out of the limelight. A spokeswoman says they are in close contact with MINUSMA to operate in northern Mali and “will continue to rely on this exchange in the future”. Staff safety is a “top priority”.

The Bundestag debate on Wednesday should also revolve around the security of German soldiers. With the withdrawal of France’s anti-terror operation Barkhane, set in February, terrorist groups could gain more ground – and it also remains unclear how they could replace French attack helicopters stationed in Mali. Lessing says an effort is underway to find a solution. “But it certainly didn’t get any easier.” (epd/mig)

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