26 June 2014

Mali: German Troops to Stay in Mali

Photo: IRIN/Phuong Tran
Des rebelles touaregs dans le désert du Sahara

Parliament in Berlin has extended German participation in the UN mission in Mali for another year. Up to 150 German soldiers can continue to serve in the West African country. Doubts about the mission persist.

A few years ago, Mali was heralded as a model democracy. Then ethnic conflict erupted in the north and Islamist groups exploited the chaos and conquered vast areas of Malian territory. Finally the West - in particular France - intervened and the Islamists were beaten back.

Germany has been participating in an international mission in the West African nation for the last year. During Wednesday's (25.06.2014) debate in the German parliament on extending the mandate for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), deputies from the center-left coalition and the opposition Greens agreed that Mali would continue to need armed military assistance from abroad. "We would now be contending with an Islamist regime in Bamako, were it not for that foreign military assistance," said Wolfgang Hellmich, defense spokesman for the Social Democrats. "The mission is a stabilizing factor in Mali," said Christian Democrat Roderick Kiesewetter, a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee. He also reminded deputies that Germany was spending 20 million euros ($27 million) on crisis prevention in Mali, as well as deploying soldiers there.

Opposition to the mission

The mandate for German participation has now been extended until 2015 and the only party to vote against the motion was the opposition Left Party. Their spokeswoman Christine Buchholz said the humanitarian situation in Mali had worsened in spite of the MINUSMA mission. "150,000 refugees are holed up in camps," she said. Fundamental problems in Malian society were not being addressed. "Gold mining is booming, but hardly any of this wealth is trickling down to the people," she added. Buchholz also said she suspected that participation in this armed military mission was being used as a lever to help secure public contracts in Mali. "Bring the German troops back home - the money is needed elsewhere," she told deputies.

Left Party deputy Christine Buchholz believes the money allocated for German troops in Mali would be better spent elsewhere

MINUSMA operates in Mali under the authority vested in it by UN Security Council Resolution 2100 which was passed in April 2013. The resolution was drawn up after French troops had intervened in the fighting in order to halt the advance of Islamist forces. To this day the Malian government in Bamako is still unable to exert its authority in large swathes of the north of the country. A recent Malian army offensive against Tuareg rebels in Kidal ended in disaster and with much bloodshed.

Up to 150 German soldiers are permitted to take part in MINUSMA at a cost of 150 million euros to the German taxpayer. Their task will be to provide French troops with logistical support - such as air-to-air refueling - and take over leadership and advisory roles, if required. It is a small contribution to MINUSMA, which has a total force of up to 11,200 troops and 1440 police officers.

Training the Malian army

This mission that has just been extended is just one part of German military engagement in Mali. Berlin is also involved in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) and has parliamentary approval for the participation of up to 250 German soldiers.

Bundeswehr instructors training Malian army engineers in Koulikoro

EUTM's purpose is to strengthen the military capabilities of the Malian army so it can eventually keep its northern territory secure on its own. The political objective of this mission is the restoration of Malian territorial integrity. Training takes place in Koulikoru in southern Mali, where 250 instructors are training four Malian battalions of some 2,600 soldiers.

Uta Bracken works for the German NGO "Brot für die Welt" (Bread for the World). She recently visited Mali and said the presence of the international military mission has caused a mixed response among the population. "Local people are noticing that there is an international military presence in the capital Bamako even though the conflict is in the north," she said. There is certainly a military side to the problem "but surely reconciliation and restoring confidence in political institutions are also important," Bracken added.

German politicians such as Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and President Joachim Gauck have been calling for a stronger German commitment to Africa and other parts of the world. The United Nations supports such calls. But the Bundeswehr's budget is expected to be pruned by a further 400 million euros. This will mean that von der Leyen will have 822 million euros less to spend on the Buundeswehr than her predecessor during the previous fiscal year.

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