Like in Afghanistan

BERLIN/BAMAKO | | mali

BERLIN/BAMAKO (Own report) - The German government has taken the decision to expand the German military mission in Mali to the north of the country, plagued with terrorist attacks. Following the deployment of German UN Blue Helmet troops (MINUSMA) in Gao in northern Mali, German soldiers will also be training units of the Malian army. In the north of that country, there are often terrorist attacks on convoys of foreign troops. Most recently, three French soldiers were killed in a bombing last Tuesday. Observers are warning that, due to particularities of the peace agreement signed in the summer of 2015, the training program in the north could benefit future Touareg insurgencies. Three years after the beginning of the intervention in Mali, the situation is showing clear similarities to Afghanistan. One can hardly speak in terms of a "stabilization" of the theatre of operations, but rather, as reported by a Malian intelligence agency, of the "terrorist threat" spreading to the center and the south of the country. Attacks are being carried out not only against the forces of MINUSMA but also those of the EU's EUTM Mali.

Intervention in Northern Mali

Yesterday, Wednesday, the German government decided to expand the Bundeswehr's training mission in Mali. Based on the European Council's March 23 decision to no longer limit the European Union's Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) to the south of the country, the training of Malian troops should also be carried out further in the north - up to the Niger bend. This would particularly include the cities of Timbuktu and Gao. This would further reinforce the Bundeswehr's presence in northern Mali. Back on January 28, the German Bundestag voted in favor of sending up to 650 German soldiers to northern Mali - in the framework of the UN Blue Helmet mission MINUSMA (Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation au Mali - United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali). Since February 3, German troops have been getting installed at a MINUSMA base in Gao. Approx. 200 soldiers have arrived so far, another 200 are due to follow. Another 200 German soldiers have been stationed in the south, near the nation's capital Bamako, within the framework of EUTM Mali - since August 2015, under the command of Bundeswehr Brig. Gen. Franz Xaver Pfrengle.

Side Effects...

Whereas the German MINUSMA troops were stationed in Gao to relieve Dutch units, the Bundeswehr deployments are carried out as implementation of new Malian government policies. A peace agreement reached June 21, 2015 between the Malian government and the Touareg insurgents, stipulates that the latter will be integrated into the Malian army, however, to be deployed only - in their homelands - in the north of the country. Therefore, their military training will now be carried out in that region. Observers are very skeptical about this development. They point out that, at least some of the Touareg militias due to be integrated are involved in all types of smuggling in this vast, hardly controllable desert region of northern Mali. Should they be deployed as soldiers in the north, this obviously could lead to serious conflicts of interests.[1] Quite a few observers recall that already back in the 2012 rebellion, diverse Touareg units had deserted from the army - some even joining the rebels directly.[2] Others are warning that, by training Touareg combatants in the North, one could possibly be laying the groundwork for more rebellions. "The Touareg will be getting their own army, paid for by Bamako."[3]

... and Risks

The intervention in Mali is already showing clear similarities to the Afghanistan mission. For example, it was possible to successfully wrest northern Mali from the control of jihadi militias, like it had been possible to temporarily put an end to Taliban control in 2001. Nevertheless, intervention forces - the MINUSMA units as well as the French "anti-terrorist" Operation Barkhane forces - are regularly under attack. According to a report by the United Nations, two out of three MINUSMA convoys, leaving Gao proceeding north toward Anéfis, and even four out of five of the convoys heading east toward Ménaka, were bombed.[4] MINUSMA, with well over 80 casualties is currently considered the most dangerous UN mission. During the few hours of German President Joachim Gauck's brief visit to Mali February 12, seven soldiers were killed in an attack on the MINUSMA base in Kidal. As evidenced by the note confessing the ambush, the attack was literally a warning against the continuation of the foreign military intervention. Just last Tuesday, three French soldiers were killed, when their point vehicle in an "Operation Barkhane" convoy hit a mine. The MINUSMA Bundeswehr convoys will be regularly driving around northern Mali on "reconnaissance."

The Spread of Terrorism

Far from the troops of intervention stabilizing the situation, Mali has begun experiencing a spread of terrorism. On the one hand, the well-known structures, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its splinter group "al Mourabitoun" have stepped up their attacks. They are being held responsible for the murderous attacks on hotels and a beach resort in Mali's capital, Bamako (November 20, 2015), in Burkina Fasos capital Ouagadougou (January 15, 2016) and the beach resort Grand Bassam in the Ivory Coast (March 13, 2016), with a combined total of approx. 70 people killed. It is possible that AQIM and "al Mourabitoun" are behind the attacks on one of the hotels being used by EUTM in Bamako (March 21, 2016), which could be repelled without EU casualties. Perhaps even more significant, however, is the fact that alongside these well-known terrorist structures, firmly entrenched in the north of the country, independent terrorist organizations have begun cropping up in the center and in the south of Mali. Therefore, several attacks in the south have been attributed to the "Macina Liberation Front," an organization alluding to the Macina region around the city of Mopti in central Mali. "With the appearance of newer groups in central and southern Mali," the "terrorist threat" has "spread almost throughout the entire nation," according to a report of the Malian intelligence service, recently quoted in the journal "Jeune Afrique."[5]

From Mauritania to Chad

The expansion of the Bundeswehr's activities to northern Mali also corresponds to Berlin's framework strategy. Experts have regularly pointed out that smugglers and jihadis, who, particularly Berlin and the EU, are seeking to combat with repressive measures, are operating in the hardly controllable expanses of the cross-border Sahara and Sahel. Therefore, it would be "reasonable for Berlin to aim its foreign and security policy efforts, in the future, more pointedly at regional missions," wrote, for example, the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) last year.[6] The German-led EUCAP Sahel Mali police mission is training Mali's police officers, Gendarmerie and its national guard. Alongside this mission, EUCAP Sahel has a subsidiary in neighboring Niger. According to the Bundeswehr, EUTM Mali will structure the training measures, in the future, so that the "interoperability and cooperation between the militaries of the G5 Sahel group of nations" can be ensured.[7] The five countries, Mauretania, Mali; Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad joined forces in February 2014 around the French-led "anti-terrorist" "Barkhane" operation. Over the next five years, the EU will grant billions in support to this alliance. Without waging operations all the way into the desert regions, success is unimaginable. The Bundeswehr will, therefore, be operating in northern Mali.

[1] Thomas Scheen: Ein neuer Friedensschluss in Bamako. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.06.2015.
[2] Alexis Arieff: Crisis in Mali. Congressional Research Service. www.crs.org 14.01.2013.
[3] Thomas Scheen: Ein neuer Friedensschluss in Bamako. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.06.2015.
[4] Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Mali. United Nations Security Council, S/2015/1030, 24.12.2015.
[5] Mali: Keïta et Koufa, l'inquiétant duo terroriste du Sud. www.jeuneafrique.com 03.12.2015.
[6] Michael Hanisch: Eine neue Qualität des Engagements. Deutschlands erweiterter militärischer Einsatz in Nord-Mali. Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik Nr. 8/2015. See Ein Feuerring bis Mali.
[7] Ausweitung der EU-Ausbildungsmission in Mali beschlossen. www.bundeswehr.de 04.04.2016.