Stabilizing the Sahel: EU Mulls Forceful Presence in Africa’s War-Torn Region

Written by | Saturday, June 20th, 2020

Human rights monitor Amnesty International has accused security forces in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso of unlawfully killing or causing the disappearance of around 200 people this year, saying this could constitute war crimes. “The deliberate killings of unarmed civilians by security forces in Mali and Burkina Faso may constitute war crimes under international law and should be thoroughly investigated,” said Amnesty International. Forces in these three West African countries have launched offensives against militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Sahel region, south of the Sahara desert. Despite thousands of French and United Nations troops being deployed around the Sahel, the regional states have struggled to quell the jihadist insurgency as Islamist militants that initially emerged in Mali in 2012 spread to Niger and Burkina Faso. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict, and many have fled their homes.
While the conflict in Sahel is taking toll, concerns emerged earlier in February during the annual US-led military exercise Flintlock held in Mauritania that Washington was planning to draw down its military in Africa – a decision that left its allies in Europe and Africa shocked. To allay the fears among their regional partners, Germany and France have been pushing for a greater EU involvement. The German army is currently engaged in one UN and one EU mission in Mali and another EU mission in Somalia. Many in the US security establishment and experts have criticized President Donald Trump’s plan, with Herman J. Cohen arguing that „just as Islamist militants are resurging in Africa, the Pentagon is making an unforced error by planning to reduce its presence there, particularly in volatile West Africa.“ But sources from the US’ Special Operations Command – Africa have tried to reassure America‘s partners that the US military capability in Africa will not change if the drawdown happens.
Meanwhile, Germany’s troop deployment to Mali with the EU Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) has been extended until 2021 under a mandate approved by the German federal parliament, the Bundestag, with the government saying the fight against jihadists in the Sahel is “very acute.” EUTM, hampered by a Covid-19 outbreak since April, has been allocated up to 450 German troops – 100 more than before – to instruct Malian soldiers, establish a new training center in central Mali, as well as training recruits of other Sahel nations. The EU assignment is operating alongside the 13,000-strong UN multinational mission in the West African country. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also called for an international effort to stabilize the Sahel region that has seen an escalation of violence and terrorism in recent years. Germany and France are currently working on a joint initiative in the area under the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping missions in Mali. France has recently scored a success during a special operation in Mali by killing Abdelmalek Droukdal, the head of all al-Qaida affiliates in North Africa.

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