New EU military missions in West Africa to counter Russia — EUobserver

The EU is aim­ing to launch three new mil­i­tary mis­sions in West Africa after Rus­sia pushed Europe out of the Cen­tral African Repub­lic (CAR) and Mali and threat­ens to do so in Burk­i­na Faso. The new mis­sions ought to be in Burk­i­na Faso, one of the Gulf of Guinea states, and in Niger accord­ing to a “strate­gic review” paper by the EU for­eign ser­vice dat­ed 25 May and seen by EUobserver. 

Niger slat­ed to host EU mil­i­tary train­ing mis­sion (Pho­to: Jean Rebiffe)

The Niger mis­sion is the first to go ahead after Nige­rien author­i­ties request­ed an EU “logis­tic and main­te­nance cen­tre of excel­lence in the vicin­i­ty of Niamey”, it said.

But the EU is keen “to go beyond this ini­tial request to also cov­er a ‘train, equip and accom­pa­ny’ pack­age for spe­cif­ic units or even a full-scale mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to accom­pa­ny Nige­rien armed forces to combat”. 

Burk­in­abe armed forces “dur­ing dis­cus­sions at tech­ni­cal lev­el” asked the EU for a sim­i­lar pack­age, the EU for­eign ser­vice said. 

But Burk­i­na Faso is play­ing a dou­ble game, because it also sent a high-lev­el mil­i­tary del­e­ga­tion to Mali in mid-April and the EU sus­pects it dis­cussed using Russ­ian mer­ce­nar­ies to fight jihadists the same way Mali has done. 

“The pos­si­bil­i­ty of a repli­ca­tion of the Malian mod­el [in Burk­i­na Faso] and the use of Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces can­not be ruled out,” the EU for­eign ser­vice warned. 

The Gulf of Guinea project is in its infancy. 

But the EU for­eign ser­vice spoke of cre­at­ing “a lim­it­ed mil­i­tary foot­print in one iden­ti­fied coastal state” that would host EU mil­i­tary train­ers who could car­ry out “bespoke” mis­sions in the region. 

The EU mil­i­tary expan­sion comes after Rus­sia pushed out French-led Euro­pean forces from CAR last year and then Mali this year in what is increas­ing­ly look­ing like an African front in Rus­si­a’s geopo­lit­i­cal clash with the West.

The EU also hopes to cre­ate its own rapid reac­tion force by 2025 designed to fight in places such as the Sahel in what French pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron has cham­pi­oned as Europe’s “strate­gic autonomy”. 

The new EU force must be ready to go into com­bat to defend Europe’s inter­ests, the EU for­eign ser­vice paper said. 

EU coun­tries must “accept the risks asso­ci­at­ed with clos­er accom­pa­ni­ment of part­ner forces clos­er to the com­bat zone”, it said.

But for all Macron and the EU for­eign ser­vice’s talk, Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s push into Françafrique risks mak­ing the EU ambi­tions appear like too lit­tle too late. 

The EU fold­ed its CAR mis­sion in Decem­ber 2021 after Krem­lin-linked mer­ce­nar­ies from the Wag­n­er group took com­mand of EU-trained sol­diers and com­mit­ted atrocities. 

It also sus­pend­ed its Mali mil­i­tary and civil­ian train­ing mis­sions in May after Mali brought in Wag­n­er mer­ce­nar­ies to fight jihadists. 

Rep­u­ta­tion damage

The EU pull-back was due “to pre­vent any rep­u­ta­tion­al risk due to Malian defence and secu­ri­ty forces trained by the EU falling under the con­trol or engag­ing along of Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces, as it had been observed in the cen­tre of the coun­try”, the EU for­eign ser­vice said.

The EU had fund­ed new mil­i­tary camps in Kon­na, Tomin­ian, Timis­sa, Sayed, and Kori­entze in cen­tral Mali and trained sol­diers and gen­darmes there in the past two years, the EU paper noted. 

But “the units (both Nation­al Guard and Nation­al Gen­darmerie) in these posts, which were trained by EUCAP Sahel Mali [the EU mis­sion] pri­or to their deploy­ment, are now under mil­i­tary com­mand and are inte­grat­ed in joint oper­a­tions with Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces,” the EU paper noted. 

“It is also assessed that Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces are grad­u­al­ly more present and influ­en­tial at the strate­gic lev­el” in Malian mil­i­tary cir­cles, the EU warned. 

And now Malian sol­diers “togeth­er with Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces” were “ter­ror­is­ing the pop­u­la­tion with puni­tive raids, tar­get­ing the Fulani com­mu­ni­ty in par­tic­u­lar”, the EU said. 

“Reports of vio­lence on civil­ians have reached unprece­dent­ed lev­els,” it said. “It is evi­dent that Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces’ pres­ence along­side the MAF [Malian Armed Forces] coin­cides with seri­ous and sys­tem­at­ic human rights violations”. 

The few EU mil­i­tary and civil­ian train­ers who are stay­ing on in Mali will do so to main­tain some con­tact with Malian mil­i­tary com­man­ders and keep an eye on Russ­ian deployments. 

“It is assessed that about 1,000 Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed per­son­nel, most­ly rely­ing on Malian equip­ment, are deployed in Mali, with a notable pres­ence in Sévaré, Ségou, Niono, Tim­buk­tu and Gos­si in MAF camps,” the EU for­eign ser­vice said. 

“Air Base 101, in Bamako, is used as a logis­ti­cal hub for their deploy­ment,” it added. 

Wag­n­er’s pres­ence was accom­pa­nied by a dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign which aimed at “deflect­ing atten­tion from Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces atroc­i­ties against civil­ians” and con­tained anti-French “pan-African­ist” ide­ol­o­gy, it noted.

And all that was tak­ing place amid poten­tial­ly lucra­tive Malian min­er­al reserves as well as dire pover­ty and inse­cu­ri­ty for ordi­nary peo­ple — 6 mil­lion of whom need­ed food aid in a coun­try where one in five schools are closed. 

Not enough

Look­ing back to CAR, the coun­try has become so close­ly tied to Rus­sia that it now teach­es Russ­ian in its schools and offered Putin to send fight­ers to Ukraine. 

But if the Russ­ian leader want­ed to ful­ly repli­cate his CAR suc­cess in Mali, he might have to com­mit more resources than at present, the EU for­eign ser­vice said. 

Jihadist attacks against Malian camps in March and April showed that “around 1,000 Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed forces along with the MAF are not enough to clear and hold the cen­tre of the coun­try”, the EU paper noted. 

“The sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the Russ­ian sup­port to Mali in the cur­rent glob­al envi­ron­ment is also ques­tion­able,” the EU added, refer­ring to Putin’s mil­i­tary loss­es on his pri­ma­ry bat­tle­fields in Ukraine.

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