German Mali mission: room for improvement

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If the UN Security Council extends its Mali mission today, Germany will be there as the largest provider of troops. What is missing is an air backup after France left.

Securing the airport in Gao should also continue to be one of the tasks of the Bundeswehr

The decision was in the balance for a long time. Then, after talks with the German foreign minister in Mali, the federal government and parliament pulled themselves together – and at the end of May extended the deployment of the Bundeswehr in the UN-led blue helmet mission MINUSMA. By May 2023, even more German soldiers than before can be stationed in the West African crisis state – provided that the UN Security Council agrees to an extension of the international peacekeeping mission. The decision on this could be made today at the UN headquarters in New York.

More German troops, fewer helicopters

But the German decision is subject to one condition: If the deployment of German soldiers becomes too dangerous due to a lack of air security, Germany wants to get out. A loophole that raises the question: What can the mission achieve if the French anti-terrorist operation “Barkhane” has completed its announced withdrawal by the autumn and its air protection for the ground troops is missing? MINUSMA is considered the most dangerous UN mission: Jihadists often violently attack civilians, state security forces and members of international operations in Mali.

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For Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel regional program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Mali, MINUSMA is now weak because it has a purely defensive mandate: the French were responsible for fighting with their attack helicopters, Laessing says in a DW interview . Replacing them is not easy: “The nations that have helicopters and could go to Mali are now all busy securing NATO's eastern flank in Europe.”

MINUSMA will be “less active”.

As a result, MINUSMA will be less active outside of the major bases. Also because Russian troops are active in northern Mali: According to reports, Assimi Goita's military government has been working with mercenaries from the notorious Russian Wagner Group for some time. “There in the north, Mali issued restrictions on the freedom of movement for UN planes,” Laessing recalls. The Sahel state of Mali, which suffers from extremist violence and great poverty, has received military support from the UN peacekeeping mission for nine years.

The federal government's extended MINUSMA mandate envisages sending up to 1,400 German soldiers to Mali

Despite the unclear situation, the federal government has increased the upper limit for German soldiers in Mali from 1,100 to 1,400. They will partly replace the French soldiers in the medical service and also help protect the military airport in Gao.

Troop presence for civilian perspectives

According to Laessing, the greatest uncertainty for the Bundeswehr is who will manage Gao Airport in the future. It was built by the French and they have so far ensured that the UN soldiers could fly at any time to evacuate the wounded and do reconnaissance work in the face of the terrorist threat. “If the Russian troops continue to expand there, the Malian government is threatened with more restrictions on the UN.”

But MINUSMA is still helping to stabilize northern Mali, just through its mere presence and patrols, says Laessing. The UN presence in a given region allows courts to resume their work. “Judges make judgments and that allows development workers to take on projects there. Alongside fighting terrorism, this is an important task: giving people a perspective so that hopeless young people aren't always driven into the hands of the jihadists.”

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According to Anna Schmauder, who works at the Dutch Clingendael Institute in The Hague, Germany is now in a prominent position: “Since the mandate was extended, the Bundeswehr has provided the largest western contingent of troops in Mali,” Schmauder told DW. Other countries such as Sweden and Great Britain are dependent on the German troop presence. Should Germany withdraw after all, a chain reaction in the other western countries is feared.

Schmauder's conclusion for them The previous UN mission is sober: the country is still at war, the disarmament of militias is not progressing. “More and more parts of the country are coming under jihadist control,” Schmauder told DW. The transitional government with its Russian partners is increasingly targeting civilians.

“The populist government is shifting responsibility for the disastrous situation in the country to external partners in an anti-Western and anti-French course ' says Schmauder. Germany, on the other hand, has so far seen itself as part of a puzzle with its self-image as a multilateral actor – and is now coming more to the fore: because the European Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali is also coming to an end.