Europe’s Sahel Dilemma: EU, Germany Shift Focus of Military Missions in West Africa to Counter Russia

Written by | Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

The European Union is aiming to launch three new military missions in West Africa after Russia has pushed Europe out of Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR) and threatens to do so in Burkina Faso. The new missions ought to be in Burkina Faso, one of the Gulf of Guinea states, and in Niger according to a “strategic review” paper by the European External Action Service (EEAS).
More specifically, the EU foreign service recommends, in the document dated 25 May, to consider CSDP military missions in Niger and Burkina Faso and CSDP action in the Gulf of Guinea. In its strategic review of the EUTM Mali and EUCAP Sahel Mali missions in 2022, the EEAS takes stock of the “political and security situation in Mali (which) continues to deteriorate” and the consequences for the missions. It comes as the United Nations’ top political official for Africa has bemoaned Mali’s decision to withdraw from a multinational military force in West Africa’s Sahel region, calling the move “unfortunate and regrettable”. Assistant Secretary-General Martha Pobee told a meeting of the UN’s Security Council (UNSC) last week that the decision by Mali’s military government to leave the G5 Sahel force “is most certainly a step back for the Sahel.”
The decision to abandon the multinational force, which includes troops from Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania and that was formed in 2017 to counter armed groups who have swept across the region in recent years, would further isolate Bamako on the regional and global stage. Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said that Mali’s decision, which came after it was not allowed to assume the group’s rotating presidency, meant the Sahel force was now “dead”. The meeting came after the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said the bloc will keep its military training mission in the former French colony suspended for the time being. This is because, as Borrell stressed, the EU has received no guarantees from Mali’s government on non-interference by the Wagner group, Russian mercenaries that have come to the aid of Mali’s military and are being blamed for human rights violations.
Meanwhile, the German government backed a change to two of the country’s military deployments in West Africa, moving hundreds of soldiers from Mali to neighbouring Niger and shifting its emphasis in Mali from a European to a United Nations mission. Germany will increase its participation in a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, providing up to 1,400 soldiers to compensate for the French withdrawal from the country amid friction with the military junta there. German government has announced that training and support previously provided to Mali would be offered to Niger’s military in the future, citing a “changed situation” in the Sahel. Germany is also concerned that Malian forces receiving EU training could cooperate with Russian mercenaries operating in the country. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht warned last week that Malian forces could “commit cruel violations of human rights” alongside Russian mercenaries.

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