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German military mission to Mali suspended

August 12, 2022

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has announced that Germany's military mission in Mali would be halted until further notice. France is withdrawing a larger force from Mali, as the junta has hired Russian mercenaries.

Two German soldiers stood near planes at the Gao airport in Mali. Undated archive image.
Image: Arne Immanuel Bänsch/dpa/picture alliance

The German government announced on Friday that its participation in the UN military mission in Mali would be suspended until further notice, after Malian authorities did not allow a German military plane access to its airspace. 

"Again those in power in Mali have not allowed the UN MINUSMA mission access to its airspace. A planned rotation of personnel is therefore not possible. That has effects on our engagement, given that the security of our soldiers has the highest priority," the Defense Ministry said on Twitter. 

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht criticized her opposite number in Mali's military government, Colonel Sadio Camara, in her attached statement. 

"Camara's actions speak a different language to his words. Therefore we must take measures and will halt the operations of our reconnaissance forces and CH-53 [a type of military cargo helicopter] transport flights until further notice," Lambrecht was quoted as saying. 

The Bundeswehr military withdrew around 60 soldiers from the country last month amid a similar dispute, when German armed forces were prevented from boarding a civilian flight by Bamako in an act Berlin described at the time as "harassment." 

Malians suffer under strain of economic sanctions

Mixed reaction from Mali

A representative of the Malian transitional government (CNT) told DW that he was pleased with Berlin suspending the Bundeswehr mission until further notice.

"I applaud this decision! We have long wished that the security of our territory in the air would be guaranteed exclusively by the Malian armed forces! We've always said that, and that's what we wanted," Fousseyni Ouattara, deputy chairman of the CNT's defense committee, said.

However, Malian civil society said they were appalled by the news from Germany. "This decision is more than regrettable! And it comes at a time when Mali needs international solidarity in the fight against terrorism more than ever," Moctar Sy, a member of the Engaged Generation movement, told DW.

The German politicians are also disappointed. "It's really a pity that the transitional government of Mali is obstructing the deployment of the Bundeswehr. I think the [suspension of the Bundeswehr mission] is an appropriate reaction to these measures. But it's also a pity that it could also mean the end of the MINUSMA. This is not a good decision for the Malian people — but it is the responsibility of the Malian government," FDP development policy politician Christoph Hoffmann told DW.

And Christian Klatt, head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bamako, warns that a German withdrawal could lead to other nations withdrawing from the MINUSMA.

Frayed ties since 2021 coup

Mali's military overthrew a civilian government almost 15 months ago, one of three coups since 2012. At the time, it promised rapid elections. Currently, it claims to be planning to stage a vote in February 2024. 

Western forces, particularly from former colonial power France, had been present in comparatively large numbers in the troubled country for years. However, relations with the junta became increasingly fraught, not least after Mali's decision to bring in Russian mercenaries from the contentious Wagner Group late last year.

Mali has called the Russians "advisers," but in February, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a major shakeup of military operations in the Sahel. French troops had been acting in place of Malian forces in some battles with insurgents. While not all French soldiers will be withdraw, with more than half of a peak of 5,100 expected to leave, French forces that do remain will transition into more of a supporting role, leaving Mali's military to take the lead. 

The German forces in Mali are a large contingent of the UN's MINUSMA peacekeeping mission. 

Berlin had extended the Bundeswehr deployment to Mali earlier this year, following a visit by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to the West African nation. Parliament also approved an increase in the upper limit of personnel that could be sent to Mali — from 1,100 to 1,400.

But earlier last month, Mali's government ordered the spokesman of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, to leave the country.

German Free Democrat member of parliament Alexander Müller told DW that Mali has "turned towards Russia. And I wonder why they did it, because I cannot imagine that Russia has better interests for the Mali government."

ar, dh, msh/jcg (AFP, dpa)

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