The Next Lost War

German Foreign Minister Baerbock obtains extension of military operation in Mali, primarily for strategic reasons. The Mali mission is just as much a failure as the Afghanistan venture before it.

BAMAKO/BERLIN (Own report) – The German government postpones for a year the planned pull-out of the Bundeswehr from Mali to May 2024, to accomplish Germany’s strategic interests in the Sahel. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht have agreed on this measure. Whereas Lambrecht had initially pleaded for terminating the mission at the end of its current mandate – May 2023 – Baerbock insisted on an extension, for reasons that have nothing to do Malian interests. Russia’s influence in the Sahel must be repelled, declared the foreign minister, and besides, a German participation in a UN mission in Mali is advantageous for applying for a renewed seat on the UN Security Council. The fact that the mission in Mali is primarily based on strategic interests, is like the dispatchment of the Bundeswehr to Afghanistan in late 2001. There the mission failed last year – after nearly two decades – marked by war crimes, a lack of reconstruction and western ignorance. It bares many resemblances to the – also failed – mission in Mali.

Defeat at the Hindu Kush

With the decision to finally withdraw the Bundeswehr from Mali by May 2024, the German government is also officially admitting the next western defeat – in this case, a war waged mainly by its European part. Only in August of last year, NATO had hastily pulled out its troops from Afghanistan, after the Taliban was able to retake control of the country sooner than expected. That ended – also for the Bundeswehr – a nearly 20 year long war, wherein a militarily overwhelming western superiority of power had proven unable to carry out reconstruction of that devastated country, as it had been autocratically announcing since the turn of the year 2001/2002. During its chaotic troop pull-out, the German government was not even capable of evacuating German citizens and Afghan employees of the German embassy or the Bundeswehr. It had to depend on the active support of diplomats at the Emirate of Qatar.[1] The countless war crimes committed by Western troops at the Hindu Kush have largely remained unpunished,[2] as well as the crimes against human rights committed by Western intelligence services during the “War on Terror” at the Hindu Kush and beyond.[3]

Unprofessional and Ignorant

Unusually candid statements, describing how the Bundeswehr became involved in the mission in Afghanistan, were heard on Monday at the first public hearing of the commission of inquiry, set up by the Bundestag in July, to draw lessons for Germany’s future military missions.[4] According to the commission, the German government’s decision to intervene, had little to do with Afghanistan itself, but to demonstrate “support” to the United States. The US government had been “extremely focused on itself” at the time – “spooky,” reported Michael Steiner, a foreign policy advisor at the Chancellery. It was feared that one would lose transatlantic backing if one did not participate in the Afghanistan war.[5] The mission had begun already “unprofessionally and chaotic”, admitted Lt. Gen. Carl-Hubertus von Butler, who had arrived in Kabul with an advance contingent in January 2002. Knowledge of the country of the intervention had been practically non-existent, affirmed the Peace and Conflict Researcher Conrad Schetter, who noted that “the interventionists” had made no effort “to develop differentiated knowledge of the Afghan society” where they were operating.[6]

Defeat in the Sahel

Parallels between the mission in Mali and the one in Afghanistan are obvious and have been publicly discussed since early 2016.[7] Also in Mali, it has proven impossible to bring the insurgencies in the north of the country – often jihadi –under control. They have long-since spread to the center of Mali. Also in Mali, no economic reconstruction has been accomplished, and alleged western war crimes have not been prosecuted.[8] Unlike at the Hindu Kush, Mali’s military government is forcing the European troops’ withdrawal. It is not only accomplishing this, but, above all, by preventing all European military unilateral operations, it is reestablishing its country’s sovereignty. ( reported.[9]) France, which by far had the largest contingent of the intervention troops, had withdrawn its soldiers last August. At the beginning of last week, Great Britain announced it was ending its participation in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)).[10] Other European countries have already repatriated or are preparing to repatriate their troops. In Berlin, military policymakers have been pushing, since some time, to admit that the mission was a failure, and to pull the Bundeswehr out. The current mission mandate should be allowed to expire and the withdrawal of the troops be terminated by May 2023.

“Not Abandon to Russia”

Particularly Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock objected. The reasons – like those that led to the decision for the Afghanistan mission in 2001 – have little to do with Mali, itself. In reference to the Sub-Saharan African migration that transits Mali to reach the Mediterranean coast, Baerbock seeks to prevent “the Sahel from becoming a safe haven for internationally networked terrorist organizations, for organized crime.”[11] In addition, the Bundeswehr’s participation in MINUSMA, offers “an opportunity, according to the foreign ministry, for Germany to demonstrate to the United Nations that it is a reliable partner.” Of course, this is being done “with unspoken reference to other German ambitions and intentions, for example that Germany would again like to be a non-permanent member of the Security Council in a few years.”[12] But above all, there should be no pull-out from Mali, because, “the vacuum would be filled to an even larger extent by other forces,” the foreign minister explained back in May. This refers particularly “to Russian forces.”[13] Baerbock has succeeded in prolonging the failed mission for another year, until Mai 2024 – exclusively in favor of Berlin’s strategic interests.

The Next Deployment Location

Regardless of this, the German government is increasingly oriented on increasing its influence in the Sahel, which can no longer be achieved, as had been hoped, through its military presence in Mali, but through another country, via Niger and a Bundeswehr presence in that country. The German military has long since begun to install itself in Niger, and is striving to expand its activities there. will report more soon.


1] Mathias Brüggmann: Warum der Westen in der Afghanistan-Krise auf Katar setzt. 09.09.2022.

[2] See also The Era of Impunity and Der Club der Kriegsverbrecher.

[3] See also Taking Stock of the "War on Terror".

[4] Experten schildern geopolitische Ausgangslage und Beginn des Einsatzes. 21.11.2022.

[5] Ein chaotischer und unprofessioneller Anfang. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.11.2022.

[6] Prof. Dr. Conrad Schetter, Bonn International Centre for Conflict Studies (BICC): Öffentliche Anhörung zum Thema „Kontext und Lage in Afghanistan zu Beginn des Einsatzes 2001. Ausgangspunkt 11. September 2001 bis zur Petersberger Konferenz 2001“ am 21. November 2022.

[7] See also Wie in Afghanistan and Wie in Afghanistan (II).

[8] See also Putsch in the Theater of Operations.

[9] See also Battle Over Mali (I) and Battle Over Mali (II).

[10] UK withdraws troops from Mali early blaming political instability. 14.11.2022.

[11], [12] Peter Carstens, Johannes Leithäuser, Michaela Wiegel, Claudia Bröll: Deutschland bleibt vorläufig in Mali, beginnt aber den Abzug. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 23.11.2022.

[13] Rede von Außenministerin Annalena Baerbock in der Bundestagsdebatte zur Fortsetzung der Beteiligung bewaffneter deutscher Streitkräfte an der Multidimensionalen Integrierten Stabilisierungsmission der Vereinten Nationen in Mali (MINUSMA). Berlin, 11.05.2022.