EU is in disarray as Macron pulls forces out of another former French colony.
Royal Anglian Regiment Soldier
Another foreign entanglement Britain could have been sucked deeper into — now avoided
President Macron has taken the decision to pull his crack forces out of Mali in West Africa in another humiliating climbdown that plunges a dagger into the heart of the EU’s plans for a European army.
Mali, best known in Britain for being the land of Timbuktu is enduring a civil war — with the French operating out of Chad since 2014 by leading an anti-jihadi insurgency known as Operation Barkhane. Growing out of the aftermath of the Libyan civil war, the French have 5,000 troops stationed there with support from Estonia, Sweden and the Czech Republic — alongside the military of former French colonies Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
This is the second French withdrawal in 12 months
An additional initiative, the Takuba Task Force, again under French leadership, was established in March 2020 known as the ‘European task force’ comprising of Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Sweden.
President Macron announced in July of last year the Barkhane Operation troops would be reduced by half before this summer. He has now just announced that France and its EU partners as well as Canada, will begin a coordinated withdrawal of the whole Mali operation including the Takuba task force. The reason given is that the French will no longer work alongside the Mali government.
Relations between the Paris-led operation and Mali’s military leaders deteriorated further since they failed to keep an agreement to hold elections this month and proposed instead they remain in power until 2025. The French have lost 43 servicemen in the region over the last eight years. They will now redeploy to the Niger and Burkino Faso.
EU goes quiet about this withdrawal of forces
Yesterday (17 Feb 2022), EU Commission President von der Leyen addressed the 6th European Union-African Union Summit, along with President Macron. In her opening speech, she had not one word to say about these significant developments between the EU Member States and African countries.
Despite the participation of troops from so many EU countries, all now retreating, the EU has been remarkably quiet. The EU Commission’s ‘External Action Service’ (the equivalent of the UK’s Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence rolled into one) has made no statement.
After much research,1 was eventually able to find a statement in small font on the French Foreign Ministry’s website, although it was not in their news section. Below is the key paragraph:-
“Due to multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities, Canada and the European States operating alongside Operation Barkhane and within the Task Force Takuba deem that the political, operational and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali and have thereof decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory. In close coordination with neighbouring states, they also expressed their willingness to remain committed in the region in accordance with their respective constitutional procedures.”
SIGNATORIES: Belgium ; Benin ; Canada ; Chad ; Czech Republic ; Denmark ; Estonia ; France ; Germany ; Ghana ; Hungary ; Italy ; Ivory Coast ; Lithuania ; Mauritania ; the Netherlands ; Niger ; Norway ; Portugal ; Romania ; Senegal ; Slovakia ; Slovenia ; Sweden ; Togo ; European Council ; European Commission ; Coalition for the Sahel ; African Union Commission
It will be noted that not only were EU countries signatories but so were the EU Council and the EU Commission.
Britain’s lesser role in Mali
- From 2016 David Cameron’s British Government agreed to provide Operation Barkhane with logistical support through once-a-month strategic airlifts and later from 2018 Theresa May’s Government provided Chinook troop helicopter sorties. From 2020 Boris Johnson’s Government provided an additional 250 troops to the 90 already there, to join the separate UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali) providing long-range patrols in Mali.
- MINUSMA is the third largest UN peacekeeping force in the world with about 15,200 personnel deployed drawn from some 50 countries, with 209 peacekeepers killed to date. As it is a separate deployment to the French-led Barkhane and Takuba operations, the French withdrawal is not expected to impact immediately on the British commitment.
Troops from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards and the Royal Anglian Regiment were serving in Mali last October (2021) when they shot dead two terrorists who fired on them when on a security patrol.
- This was the first time UK troops had come under fire since combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 and the first and only time in Mali so far. The operation the British troops are involved in is quite a different type from that of the French.
While all eyes are on the Ukraine-Russia border and the utterly divided EU flounders in its response, there is another EU foreign policy failure happening in Africa.
Having fallen out with the autocratic Mali Government, France previously announced it would be pulling back from its commitment to the Barkhane anti-Jihadi operation based in Chad and fight mostly in Mali. Now President Macron is also pulling out of the French-led Takuba Task Force in Mali and troops are being redeployed to anti-Jihadi duties in other former French colonies.
EU military operations
Both of these operations were distinct from the UN peacekeeping force, MINUSMA and were quite obviously seen in Brussels and Paris as putative EU operations on the ground. These are exactly the sort of deployments that the UK is in great danger of being sucked into in the future if we become players in the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) — sorting out the problems of former French colonies.
Desk-bound officials and strutting politicians may like to dream up grand ideas of multinational military initiatives — which conveniently allows the blame to be shared when it all goes wrong. This also spreads the casualties between national forces. There is no good reason for British boys and girls to be sorting out the mess in former French colonies.
National politics and accountability
The Libyan civil war that Britain and France became embroiled in had a great deal to do with the French Presidential election — with President Sarkozy looking for military glory. President Macron has proven no different. Leave him to it and let the French people judge. Let the electorates of countries decide if it is in their national interest to be militarily involved in overseas wars. One of the real dangers of the CSDP is that with the EU being so anti-democratic and unaccountable there is a very real danger that the countries taking part will end up being committed to wars large and small without their electorates being able to hold anyone to account — so long and complex is the chain of command and political accountability.
The UK must stay out of all of this
Britain quite literally dodged a bullet by taking the first steps to unwind our involvement in EU military infrastructure through deletions of foolish clauses in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Boris Johnson’s Government must remain alive to the very real dangers of any more such colonial tendencies of European leaders.
Sources: French Government statements | UK Government statements | Deutsche Welle | EU Commission | EEAS