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Defense Minister visits German soldiers in Mali

Daniel Pelz
December 19, 2016

Germany's Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen visited German soldiers stationed in northern Mali. Criticism of the mission is mounting in Germany.

Ursula von der Leyen talking to a soldier
German minister von der Leyen during a previous visit to MaliImage: Reuters/M.Kappeler

Germany's Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Northern Mali on Monday for a visit with German troops stationed in the region. Criticism of their mission has been mounting in Germany.

"We need to have patience," the minister said, apparently trying to prepare soldiers for a long-running mission. Von der Leyen noted that it would take time until Mali would be able to maintain safety on its own.

Germany currently has some 650 soldiers participating in the UN mission MINUSMA aimed at restoring peace and stability in a country still reeling from the aftershocks of a takeover by Islamist and other rebels in 2012.

The majority of the German soldiers are stationed in the town of Gao in Mali's north, a hotbed of Islamist resistance. 

Repeating mistakes?

The operation in Mali's north is currently "the most dangerous mission of the United Nations," the German parliament's commissioner for the armed forces, Hans-Peter Bartels, told a network of German newspapers on Monday.

Bartels continued that there was a lack of coordination between civilian and military assistance for the crisis-torn West African nation and called for a "realistic strategy" for Mali that included "all international allies."

A Malian and a German soldier talking to each other
Some German soldiers are training Malian troopsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

The head of the German military union Bundeswehrverband, Andre Wüstner, also expressed concern about the current design of the mission.

"I'm worried that the mistakes made in Afghanistan will be repeated again and again: a use of development funds without a clear purpose, a lack of coordination between the ministries involved and exaggerated expectations," he told Germany's Bild tabloid.

Germany's government intends to increase the number of German soldiers in Mali from the current 650 to about 1,000 next year. Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, is expected to vote on the proposal in January.

Minister von der Leyen was originally expected to arrive in Mali on Sunday after a stop-over in Nigeria. Problems with the computer of her German jet forced the minister and her delegation to spent the night in the capital Abuja.

In Nigeria, von der Leyen had began the handover of military equipment to the Nigerian armed forces. It includes a mobile field clinic, three radar stations and 180 mine detectors. The equipment is part of a 4.2 million euro military aid package to Nigeria's army.

Stemming migration flows 

The defense aid initiative also includes support to Tunisia, Mali and Niger among other countries. It is part of the German government's strategy to stem migration flows to Europe by improving peace and security in Africa.  

"Of course many people leave Nigeria to flee terror," von der Leyen told reporters in Nigeria on Sunday.

A portrait of André Wüstner
Andre Wüstner is worried that past mistakes could be repeated in MaliImage: Deutscher BundeswehrVerband

"It is in our common interest that we don't have more people searching for a way to come to Europe, often without a clear destination," she added.

Her Nigerian counterpart Mansur Dan Ali lauded the German government's efforts to assist Nigeria's military.

"Your visit today is a confirmation of the long-standing partnership that exists between our two great nations," Ali said.

The minister added that terrorism could only be fought through a resolute and united manner by all countries in the world.