The training mission, which costs 100 million annually, has been suspended for four months between the lack of definition in Brussels and the abandonment of France and Germany
The Spanish contingent deployed in the European training mission in Mali (EUTM-Mali), made up of 421 troops and with a cost of more than 100 million euros in 2021, remains quartered in Bamako and Koulikoro, north of the capital, waiting for the European Union to clarify its horizon after the suspension of activities decreed last April due to political instability in the country.
In these four months of suspension, the Spanish soldiers present in other hot areas of Mali have withdrawn to instruct local units. In addition, the total presence of troops has been reduced by a third, from 600 to the current 421 after the six-month rotation that took place last June. Similarly, at the Koulikoro and Bamako bases, where the transport support helicopter unit is located, tasks have had to be redefined to keep the troops active while the mission’s technical break persists.
Despite this scenario of uncertainty, the ministry led by Margarita Robles does not contemplate taking the same path that France and Germany have taken to leave Mali, despite the fact that time passes and the cost of the military deployment continues. The question is until when. And the answer, according to the military sources consulted, lies with Brussels and its high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Spaniard Josep Borrell, who for the moment remains uncertain.
In the June rotation, the deployed force was already reduced by a third, although Spain is preparing to lead the mission in the autumn
Two months ago, the Chief of the Defense Staff (Jemad), Admiral General Teodoro López Calderón, presented the status of the African operation at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of Spain’s entry into NATO. “After the departure of France, and given the Malian government’s refusal to accept the points that the EU put in order to continue with the mission, the EU itself has decided not to continue with the training at the tactical level of the units since there has been no a firm commitment that these forces were not going to be used later by Wagner”, the Russian paramilitary group that operates in the country thanks to the alliance with the coup military junta of Colonel Assimi Goita.
However, high-level advice and training from the structures of the Ministry of Defense and the Malian General Staff is maintained. Meanwhile, Jemad added, “the EU is carrying out a strategic review of the mission to equip it with this new reality, a reconfiguration that will mean a significant reduction in our contribution and that of the rest of the partners.”
“Area of strategic interest”
The drift of EUTM-Mali is due to the political instability of the country in the Sahel region and the aforementioned interference from Russia, which led Brussels to freeze the objectives of the operation, which began in 2013 to instruct the Malian Armed Forces.
Despite the fact that the Sahel is an area of ”strategic interest” for NATO and jihadist terrorism, the “most direct asymmetric threat to its citizens”, countries like France or Germany have been more drastic. This Tuesday, for example, Paris took out the last troops that fought the jihadist groups in the Saharan desert. The unfulfilled promises of the Malian military junta to call immediate elections – they have been given a period of two years – hastened their departure.
Germany, the other community power, also announced the transfer of its 300 troops from EUTM-Mali to the UN Minusma mission, with 15,000 ‘blue helmets’. Although Berlin’s interest is to reinforce the detachment present in neighboring Niger, where they have had the Gazelle operation, similar to EUTM, since 2017.
This being the case, without the French and without the Germans, the largest contributor in Mali along with the Spanish, the European mission is doomed to its end if this disbandment continues. This despite the fact that it has been extended until May 2024. In any case, Brussels considers the current situation “temporary” and the Spanish Army is already preparing the rotation for November and the assumption of leadership of the mission.
Margarita Robles, Army, Spanish Army, Armed Forces, Ministry of Defense, UN, NATO, European Union (EU), Spain, Mali, Islam, Jihadism
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.