After failure of EU missions in Mali, troops move to its neighbouring country
The Bundeswehr will soon be sending more military to Niger. At least a double-digit number of soldiers will participate in the upcoming EU mission EUMPM Niger, the German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht (Social Democratic Party) announced last week on the occasion of a trip to Mali and Niger. There she met with counterparts and visited Bundeswehr contingents. The Federal Government is also involved in the construction of a Niger military hospital, she said.
The EU foreign ministers decided on the new “military partnership mission” only shortly before Lambrecht’s departure. 250 soldiers are to be stationed in Niger to fight “terrorist groups” and “protect the population”. The mandate is for three years, and the Czech Presidency estimates the costs at €27.3 million.
The EUPM mission is to focus exclusively on advisory services and “specialised training” for Niger’s military. The government in Niamey wants to set up a new “battalion for communication and command support” for this purpose.
“The German government should learn from the failed military mission in Mali and immediately withdraw all German soldiers from the Sahel region,” says Sevim Dağdelen, a member of the Bundestag for the Left Party. “Sending troops to Niger only serves to secure uranium mining for France.” The country is one of the world’s most important uranium mining areas, and in the north of the country the French conglomerate Areva has been operating large mines for over 50 years.
The German Ministry of Defence regards Niger as an “anchor of stability in the region”. This does not apply to the neighbouring country of Mali. In May 2021, a military “transitional government” putsched itself into power and threw the former colonial power France out of the country. After the subsequent end of the French military operation “Barkhane”, the security situation has deteriorated further, the German government explained a fortnight ago in an answer to a minor question.
The Bundeswehr is also gradually withdrawing from Mali. Participation in the EU training mission EUTM Mali has already been scaled down following a Bundestag resolution, and some personnel have been transferred to Niger. By May 2024, German soldiers are also to leave the United Nations’ MINUSMA mission, which the Defence Minister calls a “very orderly withdrawal”. The reason for this is the cooperation of the Malian military with the Russian mercenary group “Wagner”, whose 1500 members are said to have committed massacres in the country.
After taking power, the new Malian government repeatedly refused overflight and landing rights for German aircraft and blocked the issuing of visas. Among other things, this has made the rotation of personnel and logistical supplies for the Bundeswehr more difficult.
During her visit to Mali, Lambrecht therefore negotiated conditions with the local Defence Minister Sadio Camara for the withdrawal of around 1100 German soldiers from Mali. These include a “guarantee” for the presidential elections planned for February 2024 and the continued operation of Bundeswehr drones.
The envisaged EU mission in Niger does not catch the German Defence Ministry off guard. In the capital Niamey, the Bundeswehr operates an airlift base for MINUSMA in Mali. With 130 soldiers, the German government has also participated in the training of combat swimmers of the navy and the establishment of a “special forces school”. In this “Gazelle” mission, Nigerien soldiers received protective equipment, all-terrain vehicles, radio and night-vision equipment and money for “necessary infrastructure” from Germany.
“The Bundeswehr would have liked to stay in Mali,” speculates Christoph Marischka of the Informationsstelle Militarisierung in Tübingen. The researcher describes the new mission in Niger as the “last chance to fly the EU flag in the Sahel”. Although it is ostensibly only about advice and training, this would extend to the tactical level of the troops, as in the case of “Gazelle”. Accordingly, soldiers could also be accompanied into action by the EU military.
“There are protests in the country against any interference from the EU,” says Olaf Bernau of the Afrique-Europe-Interact network. But the problem of terrorism is real, he says. That is why he sees the support of Nigerien troops to fight terrorism themselves as logical under the given circumstances. Many people in Niger see it the same way.
In the new EU mission, the military is also to coordinate closely with the EUCAP Sahel Niger police mission, which has been in operation for ten years. The EU states involved in this mission support security authorities in Niger against organised crime and terrorism. The German government also sends officers to this mission, and a year ago, Antje Pittelkau, a police officer from Berlin, was appointed head of the mission.
According to a Council decision, EUCAP also serves to “effectively control and combat irregular migration”. This is to help implement the Union’s objectives in the field of migration. The mandate includes the training of “mobile border guard units”.
“Whether it’s economic cooperation, military mission, development aid – the bitter truth is that the EU always ties any cooperation with countries in Africa to migration defence,” said left-wing MEP Özlem Demirel. EUCAP should also work more closely with Frontex. To this end, the EU border agency recently concluded a working agreement with Niger, which also provides for assistance with training and equipment.
In the new agreement, the possibility of cooperation in the field of capacity building for Nigerien border management authorities (Integrated Border Management) and the temporary exchange of experts was agreed. In addition, it is planned to work together within the framework of the EU Border Surveillance System EUROSUR.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Frontex liaison officer meets border troops in Niger (Frontex).