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EUTM Mali: a European mission to bring stability to Mali and hope for the Sahel region


Under the framework of its Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel, the EU’s objective is the promotion of stability, connecting security and development in order to address the root causes of insecurity, under-development and conflicts affecting the local, regional and global balance. The EUTM Mali is therefore the cornerstone of this long term strategic objective aiming to bring a durable solution to the Malian crisis.

The Malian political and security context

Whereas considered as one of the most stable West African country two years ago, Mali has been deeply destabilized by a succession of internal socio-political crises and external geopolitical factors. The Malian State’s deliquescence has indeed roots in the mismanagement and incapacity of the government to deal with the Touareg question and the sovereignty of the Azawad. Although the Touareg already rose up regularly in the past, the current crisis in Mail is mainly a spill-over effect of the power game in the Sahel region between the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the West, Qatar and the China’s influence rise.

The trigger was indeed the removal of Gaddafi in 2011 by the NATO coalition. Many Touareg, after having served there as Gaddafi mercenaries came back to Mali with new weapons and gears that they had gotten from Libyan arsenals and initially air-dropped by NATO coalition for the anti-Gaddafi rebels. Much better equipped than during their last uprisings, the Touareg joined forces in the National Movement of Liberation for the Azawad (MNLA) to launch an offensive to “free” the Azawad in January 2012. Suffering from 20 years of under-equipment and bad training, the Malian army had to leave their military posts in less than a few days from North of Mali. There the jihadists (AQMI, Ansar Dine) allied with the MNLA to send further offenses in direction of Tessalit and Gao (Center of Mali).

Facing harsh defeats, some Malian commanders trained with their troops by the US for years to thwart the jihadists in the Sahel region under, according to the New York Times, the most important ever -$520-600 million- US military training programme in West Africa, took guns, trucks and newfound skills to rally the rebellion. To complete “this disaster” as described by a high Malian Official, one of these commanders, the Captain Amadou Sanogo (US trained as well) launched even a successful putsch on 22 March 2012.

Following the political crisis, the rebellion got control on Tombouctou and the MNLA declared independence of the Azawad on 1 April 2012. At the same time Qatar, desiring to expand its influence through the Sahel region and destabilize the secular Algeria (ally of Russia and Syria) as it did during the Arab Spring and with the Syrian crisis, has provided money, weapons and 4×4 vehicles at the Gao’s and Tessalit’s airports to the jihadist all along April 2012 according to the French Intelligence Agency (DRM).

On 27 May 2012, the MNLA and Ansar Dine merged and proclaimed the creation of the Islamic State in North of Mali. However the alliance ceased to exist rapidly since the goal of the jihadists has been to impose an Islamic state with the Sharia in Mali, whereas the MNLA requires only independence of the Azawad. Since then, the MNLA has been chased away from the North. At that moment, the dynamic of the conflict changed radically since the crisis was not about sovereign independence but about fighting against Islamism and terrorism. During the instauration of the Sharia by the jihadists, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which condemned the putsch and the Islamists’ intrusion in the Sahel region, launched the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) through the UN resolution 2085 on 20 December 2012, which aims to reorganise and train the Malian army. Meanwhile on 10 December 2012, the EU decided to implement the EUTM Mali through the decision 17535/12 in order to provide similar assistance.

But in the early January 2013, the jihadists launched new attacks to the South of Mali, forced Malian transitory government, supported by the UN and the EU, to ask France for deploying troops on 11 January 2013 in order to avoid the jihadists from getting the control of the whole territory of Mali. The ECOWAS under the AFISMA and Chad decided then to send troops to support the Malian army and to help the French to fight off the attacks. On 17 January 2013, the European Union approved the deployment of the EUTM Mali and on 2 April 2013, the Mission began.

EUTM Mali backgrounds: a local-level conflict with potential global side effects

Deliquescence of the Malian State

Already one of the poorest country in the world, fights in Mali have deeply disorganised economic environment, political system, worsened life conditions, and with the imposition of the Sharia in the North, affected significantly human rights and cultural heritage of the country.

They made life conditions extremely critical, pushing more than 400,000 Malian to flee from the regions controlled by the jihadists. Moreover they have destabilized international development aid, which have aggravated food crisis and is already affecting 18 million people in the Sahel Region. International investments have also drastically decreased, weakening further almost inexistent economic environment of the country.

Under invocation of the Sharia, international terrorist groups are also using rapes, deaths by hanging, female genital mutilations and forced children enrolments into the conflict to impose their influence on the population. Furthermore the jihadist destroyed several invaluable historical monuments which, according to them, were contrary to the Islamic culture. Moreover, they forced theatres, musicians and cinemas to remain closed. Finally, even though more than 600 jihadists have been killed so far, according to a high-ranking French officer, more than 1000 terrorists remain in the country. The French counter attack would have indeed brought the terrorists military capacity 5 or 10 years in the past but therefore did not totally destroy the Islamic danger yet. Moreover, ethnic tensions and revenge by the Malian troops against the Arab and the Touareg communities, blamed for having collaborated with the rebellion, are an important barrier to bring back political stability and sustainable peace within Mali.

Destabilization of the Sahel Region

Erosion of the Malian State have let criminal and terrorist groups to take advantage of the security vacuum to develop drug, arms and human trafficking, as well as illegal immigration system through the region, deteriorating further the vulnerability of the population and providing resources to the jihadists. Furthermore, security instability in Mali and the French Operation are pushing and strengthening armed terrorists to the Algeria’s (i.e. Amenas hostage crisis in January 2013) and Nigeria’s territories and preventing also the Libyan State from rebuilding. The conflict may regionalize terrorist progression and threaten development and stabilisation process of the whole region.

Growing threats for European Union

The jihadists’ influence in Mali has repercussions on the EU external but also internal security. First, the development of jihadist’s bases in the Sahel region let the Islamists to plan terrorist attacks on the EU territory, which are regularly impeded by intelligence services of the EU member states. Moreover the progression of terrorists within the Sahel region have drastically increased the risk of hostage-takings and attacks towards the EU citizens. Thus the Malian crisis has a negative influence on the safety of the EU citizens.

Second, the instability of the Mali prevents EU member states’ governments and firms from getting access to the mineral resources of the Sahel region which are essential in the EU energy strategy, especially through the supply of uranium from Nigeria. Furthermore, the pragmatism of China in the hunt of natural resources, such as oil, natural gas, uranium, which the Sahel region is rich in, may obstruct progress in rebuilding a sovereign Malian State and therefore EU security of energy supply.

Third, the EU has allocated about 660 million of EUR to the Sahel region through the 10th European Development Fund (2007-2013), with an extension of 167 million of EUR in order to ensure security and development related projects. The Malian crisis is about to totally undermine this huge financial aid and remove all EU investment and trade.

Finally, uncontrolled Malian borders let human and drug trafficking reach the EU territory, breaking the effort of immigration regulation and health policies.

Legal basis of EUTM Mali: a long term relationship with Mali

Peace Support Mission in link with the AFISMA

Through its Sahel Strategy in the 10th EDF (2007-2013), the EU had also implemented the Strategy for Development and Security in the Sahel (2011) under the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSPD), the European Security Strategy (2003) and the EU Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2005). Indeed, interconnecting development with security, facing a risk of “sanctuarization” of a terrorist zone in the Sahel region and trying not to waste its important development aid, EU’s objective was to restore constitutional and democratic order in Mali, re-establish the state’s sovereignty and neutralize criminal and terrorist threats. Following then the Malian authorities’ demand through the UNSC Resolution 2071 with the deterioration of the human-economic-political situation and in line with the EU’s objective in the Sahel region, the EU reached quickly and easily a consensus to valid the concept of a crisis management and assistance tool through the creation of the EUTM Mali in the decision 17535/12 under strict collaboration with the United Nations. The Mission’s objective is to bring a complement to the AFISMA by providing operational support to the Malian army through reorganisation, training of its troops, advice in logistics, command, control and teaching of the human rights and war ethics.

Accelerated implementation with the launch of the French Mission

After the beginning of Serval and the already announced quick repatriation of the French troops from Mali, the High Representative for the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton urged to accelerate the deployment of the EUTM in order to make the Malian Army ready enough to take over the pacification of the territory by the French troops and the AFISMA. The EU on the 17th January 2013 had then authorized the implementation of the EUTM Mali in the decision 2013/34/PESC. This should be led in coordination with the EU CSDP Mission in Niger (EUCAP Sahel Niger) already deployed since 2012 in Niamey, Bamako and Nouakchott in order to assist and coordinate the fight against terrorism and organised crime in the Sahel region. Usually blamed for being slow in the organization of its Missions, the EU Political and Security Committee and the EU Politico-Military Group (PMG) showed a strong reactivity and flexibility to start the EUTM in less than 3 months. The EU promptness to act means well about the gravity of the Malian crisis.

Characteristics of the Mission: A EU presence above all

The EUTM Mali has officially started on 2 April 2013 under the control of the French general François Lecointre. France being the framework-nation of the mission for a mandate of 15 months, which could be renewed in case of presidential election in July 2013 and if EUTM is asked to stay. The estimated cost of the mission is 12,3 EUR million, sponsored proportionally by each of the 22 EU Member States participating to the EUTM, with the deployment of 550 military personnel, which are composed of 200 training officers and 150 defence troops. The headquarters is in Bamako, whereas the training is taking place in Koulikoro, 59km away from Bamako at the Malian military school of Boubacar Sada Sy. 4 Battalions composed of 650 Malian soldiers each shall be trained alternatively. These soldiers are recruited from the military personnel with 2-3 years of experience, not necessarily operational in order to not to destabilize the troops already on the front, and have to be reputed without criminal or infraction record in order to minimize the violation of human rights. Finally, contrary to what the US did and avoiding from repeating the same mistakes, trained soldiers will not be sent back to their original regiments, but will create a new inter-force Battalions, composed mainly of infantry and support units.

Advantage: cornerstone of the EU security and development strategy in Mali

The training mission implemented at the European level offers several positive aspects. First, it rationalizes the management cost of the military support. Second, it coordinates the security strategy of the EU Member States. Third, since the training officers come from different Member States, they can share their own operational experiences and reinforce the success of the EUTM. Finally by assisting the Malian government, the Mission highlights the EU’s presence in the fight against the jihadists and criminal activities. The EU deployment sends a warning to all terrorists and criminals and may be a spill over for the Sahel region. Furthermore the EUTM insists on the respect of the human rights and rule of law, helping to drive the EU’s image and principles. Moreover, without any external assistance the Malian army would not have any chance against the jihadists, such as the 2012 rout proved. And feeling abandoned by local politicians and International Community, Malian soldiers and civilians have high expectations from the EU. This is what the EUTM’s objective is about: giving hope back to Malian people of recovering security and stability for good. Finally, the EUTM is the materialization of the EU security strategy in the Sahel region.

Disadvantage: a soft power’s mission for a hard power’s issue

The EUTM will not take part directly in the fights against terrorists and criminals and shall not provide any equipment to the Malian army (except computer scientists and logistic systems financed by EU fund programme). These are the main reproaches against the mission since one of the reason of the military disaster is under equipment of the Malian troops. Moreover, since French troops will leave Mali soon and as the jihadists are hiding in the Adrar des Ifoghas, the EUTM training sessions could not be enough for Malian troops to lead counter-insurrection mission, taking the risk of an “Iraqisation” of the conflict. Furthermore whereas a non-commissioned officer and a soldier are reputed being operational after 2 years period, the Malian troops are going to receive only several months of training, reducing the operability of the future Army. The deployment of the EUTM in Mali is also increasing the exposition of the EU to the terrorist risk since the jihadists in and out of Mali may take revenge on the EU territory and especially against its population. Finally, the most urging Malian problem is about hard policy, whereas the EUTM is only about soft power, which may not bring better results than the US did with their $520 –600 million programme almost 40 times more important than the EU one with its 12,3 EUR million.

Perspective: a long term mission

Whereas France have already began its troop pull-out from Mali (100 soldiers on 11 April 2013), Chad is about doing the same according to the Chadian President with the pullback of its 2400 soldiers. Moreover, according to some sources from Pentagon, the ECOWAS troops are said to be “incapable of fighting” the jihadists assisted by an ineffective and under-equipped Malian army, therefore increase a risk of durable instability in the Sahel region. The deployment of 11.200 UN peacekeepers in July 2013 will require, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a “parallel force” (France is going to take in charge the operation with 1000 soldiers), meaning the lack of trust in the future capability of the Malian troops to restore peace and constitutional order. In any case, the €12,3 million of the EUTM in comparison of the 600million of dollar spent by the US in the training of the Malian troops, and the €1,088 billion received by Mali (2010, World Bank) as development aid, seems to be way inadequate to face the challenges, since none of these past programmes improved the situation in the country. Indeed the crisis is in the short term about security but the long term appears to be more about the viability of a unified Mali. Finally, the EUTM is not about leading a hard power policy that the EU cannot lead yet but rather about showing that the EU is not only about talking and spreading money, but also acting pragmatically for peace, respect of human rights and rule of law even outside of its continent.

Henry Develey Przybycinski – CII Collaborator – is currently completing an MA in European Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Europe – Natolin (Poland). After participating in the ERASMUS programme at the Bremen Universität (Germany), he obtained a BA in Law from the Université de Nice (France). He continued his studies with a LLM in Economic Law at Bilgi Universitesi – Istanbul (Turkey). He then joined the European Master of Law and Economics (EMLE) in the ERASMUS-MUNDUS programme, completing a LLM in Law and Economics from the Hamburg Universität (Germany), a LLM in Law and Economics from the Universita di Bologna (Italy) and a MSc in Law and Economics from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research – Mumbai (India). In the same time, after achieving formation at the Special Military School of Saint Cyr – Coëtquidan (France), he is serving as an Alpine Troops Reserve Officer in the French Army. His areas of specialization and interests are the European foreign trade strategy, European investment and industrial policy, with a special focus on the Middle East, especially Iran. He is preparing a PhD on the European investment policy in Middle East and its spill over effects on industrial development and geopolitical strategy.

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