Sahel Security: Is the Takuba Task Force Still Welcome to Mali?

While Paris is counting on a reinforcement of the Takuba combat force in the Sahel region to compensate for the withdrawal of troops from its previous Operation Barkhane, Denmark announced on Thursday that it would withdraw its troops from Mali at the request of the ruling junta. Does this mark the beginning of the end for the Takuba Task Force?

The military junta in power in Bamako has dealt a severe blow to this coalition of European special forces (supported at arm’s length by France) by securing the departure of hundreds of Danish soldiers.

“The generals in power have sent a clear message that Denmark is not welcome in Mali,” said Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, after a meeting in parliament on Thursday that confirmed the withdrawal of troops.

By demanding that the Danish contingent leave its territory, the junta targets the Takuba Task Force, which was launched in March 2020 and is now established as a partial successor to Barkhane, France’s anti-terror operation in the West African Sahel region as president. Emmanuel Macron has started to shrink from his original force of 5,000 men. The force’s goals include training Malian soldiers, gathering intelligence, and conducting targeted operations by special forces.

Following Denmark’s withdrawal of troops, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday condemned the “irresponsible actions” of an “illegitimate” junta in power in Bamako. “[This junta] bears full responsibility for the withdrawal of Danish forces and further isolates itself from its international partners “, said the Minister in Paris.

“The junta is multiplying its provocations,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on Tuesday, announcing “an in-depth consultation with our partners, especially those involved in Takuba.”

The forced departure of the Danish contingent “is a hard blow and an attack for the fiftieth time against France”, says Caroline Roussy, assistant researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), to FRANCE 24. “Denmark works to above all be a safety accident [of the Malian military’s distrust of Paris]”.

Takuba: a weakened initiative In addition to its operational role, this special force – a symbol of European defense – was also intended to show that Paris relinquished control of operations in Mali. Instead of the French tricolor, Takuba acts under the European flag.

But of the 900 men who make up the task force, almost half are French. So far, only Denmark, Estonia, Sweden and the Czech Republic have sent special forces. The other countries involved have sent troops who have been assigned logistical tasks: Italy, for example, has deployed a contingent of 200 soldiers to help with helicopter maintenance.

With this new display of hostility from the Malian junta, the Takuba initiative seems more fragile than ever. As tensions rise between Paris and Bamako, will other European capitals, already reluctant to send troops, continue to engage with France? And will countries that have already promised reinforcements be able to convince their respective parliaments? Sweden, for example, has already decided to withdraw its troops from the mission.

This is not the first time that Europeans have been hindered in their intervention in Mali. In January, the Malian Transitional Government accused a French military plane of flying over its territory without a permit. A few days later, a German plane refused to fly over Malian airspace. In the face of these repeated incidents, the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) suspended all its domestic flights for several days.

Staying in Mali – but at what cost? “This episode with Denmark risks upsetting other capitals. We can see that the Malian authorities have little desire to work with the Europeans and even less with France, even if they do not fully acknowledge this. “, says Roussy. “Meanwhile, the country is in disarray, uncertainty prevails and Bamako controls only 30% of the territory.”

French sources close to the case say that opinions are divided between European countries that do not want to cooperate with the junta – and those who refuse to give carte blanche to Russia and mercenaries from the Wagner group.

The coup in Burkina Faso also complicates matters for Paris. Of the five Sahel countries where the anti-jihadist Barkhane force is deployed, three (Chad, Mali, Burkina) are now ruled by military junta.

The EU wants to remain involved in Mali and the Sahel “but not at any cost”, EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell warned on Wednesday after talks in Brussels with foreign ministers in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

Nine years of French military intervention in the Sahel have yielded mixed results, to say the least. The jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda continue to wreak havoc in the region, despite the elimination of many of their leaders.

The Malian state has never really succeeded in establishing a lasting presence in abandoned territories. The violence has actually spread to the center of the country and then to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, before moving south to the northern Ivory Coast, Benin and Ghana.

( Jowhar with REUTERS, AFP)

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