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Africa

Mali: Additional German troops 'more than numbers'

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday that Germany will send up to 650 soldiers to northern Mali. This will allow France to focus more on the global fight against "Islamic State:"

The number of German troops serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA) mission in northern Mali is to be increased from 10 to 650. This comes in response to a French request for assistance following the Paris bombings of November 13. France has some 1,500 troops in Mali as part of the fight against jihadist groups which seized control of the north in 2012. DW spoke to Gilles Yabi, founder of the West Africa Think Tank (WATHI).

DW: How will the additional German troops in northern Mali help the French?

Gilles Yabi: I think it is important to note that the UN mission in Mali is facing a lot of problems. It is very difficult ground for peacekeeping. As you know, there were rebel groups involved in the crisis back in 2012, but at the same time there are also terrorist groups which are not part of the peace process and have not signed any peace agreement. So this mission is facing a lot of attacks coming from terrorist groups in the Sahel. The fact that Germany is sending more troops is certainly an important addition to those already on the ground because there is a need for Western troops which have more equipment and more capacity to face the difficult challenges in Mali right now.

Gilles Yabi standing in a street

Gilles Yabi is the founder of the West Africa Think Tank (WATHI)

Will these additional German troops replace some of the French troops already there or will they be supporting them?

For now you have basically the UN mission; MINUSMA, which includes a number of countries from West Africa as well as some French troops. But at the same time there is a separate French mission [called Barkhane]. What will probably happen is that the Germans are going to support the UN mission and that might allow the French to pull out a few of their troops to face the major security threat that France is facing now globally and not just in Mali. The reality is that the French presence in Mali has been reduced because the Barkhane operation is a regional one, covering five countries in the region. And now, of course, France also needs a lot of troops to fight "Islamic State" in Syria and that puts more pressure on the French troops globally.

How big a step in military terms is the increase in the number of German troops from a token 10 to 650?

I think it is important to note that Germany has already been involved heavily in a mission which is more a training mission to reform the security sector in Mali. The additional 650 German troops will be very useful for the UN mission because they are facing specific threats coming from terrorist groups and the UN mission is not equipped for that. They are not mandated to fight terrorism. So the German addition is more than the numbers, it is the fact that these are trained troops who have specific skills and who would be able to resist or face a threat from terrorist groups in Mali.

By increasing the number of its troops in Mali, is Germany also increasing its exposure to terrorist risks back home?

I think it is important to make a distinction between what is happening in Mali and what is happening globally. What happened in Paris and the threat to European countries is not related to the operation in the Sahel. It is related more directly to the Syria-Iraq crisis and to "Islamic State" which is not directly involved in what is going on in Mali.

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