The European military force fighting jihadism leaves Mali | International

Soldiers of the Takuba military force parade on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 14, 2021.
Soldiers of the Takuba military force parade on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 14, 2021.Lewis JOLY (AP)

France announced this Friday the end of operations by the European military force Takuba in Mali, where it was fighting jihadism in collaboration with French soldiers and the Malian army, a decision that became effective this Thursday. This was stated by General Pascal Ianni, spokesman for the French General Staff, at a press conference held this Friday in Paris. The end of Takuba, a force made up of some 900 soldiers from a dozen European countries, in which Spain did not participate, precedes the definitive withdrawal this summer of the French Operation Barkhane from Mali, and is due to the breakdown of collaboration between Bamako and Paris due to the arrival of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner company in this African country. Spain and Germany, the main participants in the EU military training mission, are also withdrawing their forces in Mali.

General Ianni highlighted during his appearance that both Barkhane and Takuba show that “Europeans are capable of acting together in complex security environments” and praised the lessons drawn from it, according to France Presse. Created in 2020 at the initiative of Paris with the aim of sharing the weight of the French military intervention in the Sahel with its European partners, this military force had been gaining presence until it was fully operational last year thanks to the contribution of troops from nine countries : Sweden, Hungary, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.

It was difficult for Takuba to start due to the initial reluctance of some European governments, who had to go to their respective parliaments to obtain the necessary agreements that would allow the deployment. However, in the middle of last year the community force was already fully operational and present in three Malian bases together with Barkhane, Ansongo, Ménaka and Gao. In addition to France, which contributed some 300 troops, Italy was one of the main contributors to this mission, with some 250 soldiers, a helicopter and a medical support unit. The Swedish participation, with 150 soldiers and three helicopters, was also very prominent, as well as that of Estonia, the Czech Republic and Denmark, with dozens of soldiers each.

But the breakdown of military collaboration between Mali and France after the two coups in Bamako in 2020 and 2021 and the landing of Russian Wagner mercenaries at the end of last year has turned upside down the entire security architecture that had been built in the Sahel to confront the advance of jihadist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the last decade. Both France and its Western allies reacted angrily to the arrival of private troops and expressed their rejection of any collaboration with them, a position that was accentuated after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year.

The estrangement between the Malian military junta, led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, and the Elysee reached its maximum expression in January 2022 when the Malian authorities ordered the expulsion of the French ambassador accredited in Bamako. A few days later, the Malian Prime Minister, Choguel Maïga, directly accused Barkhane and Takuba of sowing division in the country. The military junta prohibited the deployment of Danish and Norwegian troops, which had announced its intention to join the military force, withdrew its support. Little by little, the unit conceived as a support and even a substitute in some points of the French military intervention was running out of steam. Last February, all joint operations had already been cancelled.

In parallel, Barkhane has been withdrawing from all the bases he occupied in Mali and is currently only present in Gao, although his departure is scheduled for next August. For its part, the European training mission of the Malian Army (EUTM) in which Spain not only participates but is the main contributor, has already been reduced by practically half, just like the German contingent. Without its two main participants, the future of this mission is up in the air.

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Finally, the United Nations mission (Minusma), made up of some 15,000 soldiers, has renewed its mandate for another year, although Mali has announced that it will limit its movements, a reluctance that, added to the end of French air support, is generating doubts among the troop-contributing countries.

The arrival of Wagner’s mercenaries in Mali has multiplied the murders of civilians and human rights violations in this African country, such as the massacre of more than 300 Malians in Moura at the end of March. Western intelligence services and survivor testimonies point to the presence of Russian instructors alongside Malian soldiers at the scene.

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