The Militarization of the Sahel (II)

BERLIN/PARIS/BAMAKO (Own report) - Nearly five years after the European military mission was launched in Mali, experts are describing the country's situation as a disaster and warning against Berlin and Paris' further militarization of the Sahel. Mali "has never" seen "such a level of violence" as "currently," says a former French diplomat. The regional conflicts cannot be solved militarily, explained the International Crisis Group, a pro-western think tank, using the example of a Burkinabe province at the border with Mali, where, even though it was possible to suppress jihadi unrest, for the time being, the conflict can again flare up at any time, because the reasons for the unrest have not been dealt with. Nevertheless, the German government supports the creation of an intervention force of the "G5 Sahel" group of countries, which launched its first military operation yesterday. Despite the disastrous consequences of militarization, the Bundeswehr is using the Mali mission as the focus of its PR campaign.

Sahel - The Focal Point of Intervention

Nearly five years after it began, the European military mission in the Sahel has developed into one of the EU's focal points of intervention. In the framework of France's Opération Barkhane, around 3,500 soldiers are fighting jihadi militias in the five nations of the Sahel (the "G5 Sahel") - Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. With the UN's Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), nearly 11,000 UN Blue Helmet peacekeepers - including more than 1,000 from Germany - and approx. 1,600 police officers are stationed in northern Mali, to monitor a fragile local ceasefire. An additional 600 soldiers - nearly 150 of them from the Bundeswehr - are stationed in the framework of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali. Brussels has also dispatched police to Niger in the framework of the European Union Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP) Sahel Niger and to Mali - EUCAP Sahel Mali - to train the regional police and Gendarmes. The Sahel mission is comparable to the scale of NATO's intervention in Afghanistan, and is also considered very dangerous. By September 2017, the MINUSMA, alone, accounted for 133 casualties.

Out of Control

Observers have come to view the European interventions as a catastrophe. "Militarily speaking," Opération Barkhane is functioning, the expert on Africa, Roland Marchal of the Centre de recherches internationales (CERI) at Sciences Po in Paris is quoted, "they are killing terrorists, taking prisoners, destroying weapons and munitions."[1] However, to assure the operations' success, the solders must "make local alliances" - including those with "dubious characters." Drug trafficking, among other things, is flourishing today "more than ever" in the Sahel. This is a known phenomenon from Afghanistan.[2] Marchal says that, on the whole, Mali is "much less secure than it was in 2014 - when Opération Barkhane began." The former French diplomat, Laurent Bigot, who had once held a post in Mali for the French Foreign Ministry, views the situation similarly. "The goals they had set were never reached," says Bigot in reference to the European military operations - "neither in the north of Mali nor in the Sahel zone." The North as well as the center of the country is "practically out of control." "The operations that were supposed to stabilize these zones were a failure," explains Bigot: "There has never been such a level of violence in Mali, as at the current time."[3]

The Cause of the Conflicts

According to experts, the conflict's deep-seated socio-economic causes are the reason for the failure of attempts to quell the unrest militarily. As an example, the International Crisis Group, an internationally active, clearly pro-western think tank, describes the development in northern Burkina Faso. Since late 2016, a group known as Ansarul Islam has carried out several terrorist attacks in the Soum province, at the border with Mali. While military operations reasserted the state’s control, "the crisis is far from over," predicts the international Crisis Group, skeptically.[4] As the think tank explains in a recent report, For years, the founder of Ansarul Islam, Malam Ibreahim Dicko, promoted "equality between classes" and fought against the petrified social structures in the northern part of the country. The fact that the government in Ouagadougou neglects the North, and has, for example, left the infrastructure in disastrous condition, does not make the struggle easier. Dicko's turn to violence and his contacts to other regional jihadi militia have lost him many followers, noted the Crisis Group. However, his movement retains enough support "to continue a low-intensity insurgency against local and national authorities," which is why a purely military approach against Ansarul Islam is counter-productive.

With German Support

In spite of this, Berlin, Paris and the EU are continuing to push the militarization of the Sahel. The European powers are currently using the intervention forces that were re-established, July 2 on the decision of the "G5 Sahel" countries. It is supposed to be 5,000 strong and operate throughout the Sahel zone, not only to combat jihadis, but smugglers and those transporting refugees to the Mediterranean. However, who will pay the costs of the troops - which the "G5 Sahel" governments estimate at €423 million for the first year - remains unclear. The "G5 Sahel" countries have agreed to contribute €10 million each. The EU will contribute €50 million and France, €8 million. Early in the week, the United States declared it was also prepared to invest up to $60 million in the troops. Even though Paris assumes that the costs can be brought down to €240 million for the first year, there is still a large amount to be raised. The Bundeswehr, in the framework of EUTM Mali has already begun training troops of the "G5 Sahel" countries.[5] Germany is also supporting the arms buildup of the participating countries. September 21, Berlin agreed to furnish Niger altogether 53 military vehicles for an ordnance battalion. Back in July, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen presented the Nigerien armed forces with 100 pickups, 115 motorcycles, and several dozen satellite telephones.

The Shortcomings of the War on Terror

It has been reported that troops of the "G5 Sahel" launched their first operation yesterday - in the volatile Malian-Nigerian-Burkinabe border region. Critics are sounding the alarm. Former diplomat Bigot points out that the soldiers involved "come from very diverse societies." Their countries are "very different one from the other; cooperation will be difficult, and it will take a while to develop."[6] The fact that "in all five countries, the belief is that the problem, above all, is to be solved militarily, is also disastrous. It is erroneous." The International Crisis Group points out that in Burkina Faso's north, as in central Mali, "local communities" see "state representatives and security forces as foreigners trying to enrich themselves;" as a result, they are "reluctant to cooperate with security forces."[7] Their reservations are reinforced, according to a report by the IRIN news agency, by the fact that the Malian and Burkinabe military are accused of torturing, abducting and murdering terrorist suspects. In addition, the militia members are firmly integrated in the population and can go underground. This makes it difficult to identify them and even much more difficult to fight them militarily. Attempts to use some groups of the population to assist in the war on the jihadi militias has deepened social cleavages.[8]

PR Focus

In spite of the militarization's disastrous consequences, the Bundeswehr is currently focusing its military policy propaganda on the missions in Mali. ( reported.[9])


[1] Jens Borchers, Jürgen König: Europas Interessen in der Sahelzone. 17.09.2017.

[2] See also Die Warlords als Oligarchen and Liberated by the West (III).

[3] Jens Borchers, Jürgen König: Europas Interessen in der Sahelzone. 17.09.2017.

[4] International Crisis Group: The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso's North. Report No 254/Africa.12.10.2017.

[5] See also Die Militarisierung des Sahel.

[6] Jens Borchers, Jürgen König: Europas Interessen in der Sahelzone. 17.09.2017.

[7] International Crisis Group: The Social Roots of Jihadist Violence in Burkina Faso's North. Report No 254/Africa.12.10.2017.

[8] Fabien Offner: New Sahel anti-terror force: risks and opportunities. 30.10.2017.

[9] See also Uniform and Multimedia.