Mali on collision course with European anti-terror forces

The end seems to be in sight for the European military mission in Mali. Dozens of European countries are fighting jihadist groups there, but the African country‘s new military regime is increasingly bothering and seems to prefer to engage with Russian mercenaries.

The French still have by far the largest force in Mali, about 5000 men. But there are 53 soldiers killed in the region and now they want to withdraw gradually. The plan was for other European countries to take over their place for the most part, but that is difficult.

This is evident, for example, from the treatment that Danish troops participated upon arrival in the country. They had received a โ€œclear invitationโ€ from Mali to deliver troops. Last week, 90 commandos and 15 military doctors arrived in Mali. And then suddenly came the message that they weren’t allowed in anyway.

โ€œThe generals who committed a coup sent a message that we are not welcome. They are playing a dirty political game,โ€ the Danish Minister Kofod of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. โ€œThat‘s why we decided to bring our soldiers back home.โ€

The country’s current leader, Colonel Assimi Goita, came to power last year after a coup d‘รฉtat. The European Union and Mali’s neighbouring countries condemn the coup and demand new elections.

respect

The Danes were intended to join the so-called Takuba mission, a new European force to replace the French mission Barkhane. After returning the Danes, the fifteen countries involved held urgent consultations today. In the next two weeks, they will discuss what the future counter-terrorism mission in the Sahel region should look like.

The French react less diplomatically than the Danes. Foreign Minister Le Drian called the behavior of the regime unacceptable. โ€œWe can‘t go on like this, this cannot continue. The junta is unlawfulโ€.

Prime Minister Diop of Mali calls those comments โ€œfull of contemptโ€ and demands respect. โ€œThe French attitude must change. We are looking again at multiple military treaties. If they violate our sovereignty, we will ask for adjustments.โ€

The French soldiers are very unpopular in Mali, says Mali expert Mirjam de Bruijn, professor of Africanistics at Leiden University. โ€œThere’s a lot of fake news. For example, many people think that the French are working with the jihadists. Minister Le Drian‘s public criticism fuels anti-French sentiment. I think we are very close to the French being sent out of the country.โ€

The coup trailers are very popular among a large part of the population, continues De Bruijn. โ€œGoita is the strong man now. He says the advancing jihad must come to an end. They go in very hard, from thick wood, planks are cut. But they care little about human rights and many citizens fall victim to the fight. There are a few deaths every day and probably more. It’s a very precarious situation.โ€

The new hard approach is not going to stop the jihadists, De Bruijn fears. โ€œThere is a palette of different groups, including IS and Al-Qaida. It only leads to more violence, I don‘t know if this is going to help.โ€

Russian mercenaries in Timbuktu

Although Mali still denies it, there seems to be no doubt that units of the Russian mercenary company Wagner are now also in the country. According to analysts, this has close ties with the Russian army and the Kremlin.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, it’s about 300 people. Several sources confirm that they have now been stationed at Timbuktu. For Sweden, that was a reason two weeks ago to bring its troops back from Mali.

Mali expert Mirjam de Bruijn says Wagner also carried out operations along the border with Mauritania and Burkina Faso.โ€ The population in Mali is pro-Russian and everyone is anti-French,โ€ continues De Bruijn. โ€œFrance has already withdrawn from Timbuktu. Popularly, the Russians have taken over the role of the French.โ€

Today, there is still a serious warning from Mali. In this crisis with France, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs โ€œexcludes nothingโ€. A request to the French troops to leave the country โ€œis not yet on the table at the moment.โ€