Blow to Western Counter-Terror Efforts in Africa as Mali Evicts French, Invites Russians

Gunnery Sgt. Dragos Coca engages targets during a desert survival and tactics course. / U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve H. Lopez/Released

There are 18,000-plus Western and UN troops countering Islamist jihadist insurgents in the North-West African Sahel region. But on Thursday, February 17, President Macron confirmed that France would begin its military withdrawal from Mali, the current headquarters for these forces, while rejecting that its counterterror operation had failed.

“The heart of this military operation will no longer be in Mali but in Niger,” Macron told a news conference. But when asked if France’s Operation Barkhane had failed, he replied: “I completely reject this term.”

The French pullout follows Mali’s military junta demanding that Danish special operation forces (SOF) soldiers from the EU-led Takuba Task Force leave the country.

The Takuba Task Force has approximately 600 SOF personnel, with half coming from France. The French contingent consists of the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, the Penfentenyo Commando and the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment.

There are also 50 Swedish SOF from Särskilda Operationsgruppen (Special Operations Group), ninety-five Estonian SOF, and 60 Czech troops from Group 601. The 100 elite Danish troops would have significantly boosted the Takuba’s capabilities.

In January Sweden announced it would be withdrawing its forces from the Task Force.

However, now the rest of the task force will also withdraw from Mali, citing “multiple obstructions by the Malian transitional authorities.”

The graphic below shows the locations and number of western and UN counterterrorism forces in the Sahel, as well as the timeline of recent events.

Earlier ADN reported that Mali provoked a warning from the United States against deploying Russia-backed Wagner (Vagner) Group paramilitary forces after reportedly signing a deal costing $10 million per day with the ostensibly private military company (PMC) with links to the Kremlin.

Observers believe the Russian GRU, or military intelligence, directly controls or guides the Wagner Group, calling it Putin’s ‘Private Army.’

ADN has also reported on the Wagner Group here, and here.

Meanwhile, doubts about the viability of the 12,700 troops in the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) and the European Union’s Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) are increasing.

Without the French medical, air and emergency reinforcement the missions rely on, their entire future is in doubt. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank. - - PAULCRESPO.COM

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