France, with the support of other nations, continues to conduct anti-terrorist operations Barkhane in Mali and other countries in Africa’s Sahel zone. It aims to fight terrorism and to stabilize the country. The EU has been conducting its own mission in the country, under which Germany has deployed over one thousand soldiers to Mali for a training mission focused on training up domestic forces to eventually become self-sustainable.
Details Of France’s Request To Germany
France’s request for Germany was to help build a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force / CJSOTF. It is a reasonable request. After all, France continues to bear the main burden of deployment in the area, with over 4,500 soldiers in the Sahel region. Nonetheless—and even though the number of Islamist terrorist attacks in the Sahel region has recently increased significantly—Germany’s response to two separate requests from Paris was a resounding “nein.”
The Sahel Needs All The Anti-Terror Help It Can Get
The Sahel zone remains a severely high-risk area in which jihadist groups and organized crime syndicates operate. Mainly jihadists appear to have extensive freedom of movement and can act almost without restriction, which continues to make the region extremely volatile in terms of security. The latter makes the deployment of Western troops in the complex and dangerous. The situation is particularly fragile, as Malian forces regularly reach their limits in performing their extensive tasks despite international support.
The refusal of the French’s demand for military support could thus be justified by the fact that against the background of increasing destabilization of the Sahel region by Islamist terror groups, the security of further German troops cannot be guaranteed, particularly since German soldiers are generally inexperienced in combat. In other words, Berlin may seek to avoid sinking further troops into an already highly unstable region.
Germany’s Diplomatic Double-Talk
However pulling back from the Sahel and increasing partnership with France contradicts what Germany’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently called for: strengthening of the Franco-German relationship and for Germany to take on more responsibility in the world: away from empty diplomacy and towards a functioning and viable military force in order to, according to her “protect our values and interests.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stated in the Bundestag at the end of November that the Sahel zone was one of the “most serious problems of our security” and that she was working with France to achieve a more robust UN mandate.
However, a chasm still remains between Germany’s media-savvy rhetoric and the reality. In Germany, every Bundeswehr deployment needs to be mandated by the Bundestag. However, Kramp-Karrenbauer should be cognizant that deployments abroad, particularly with the coalition partner SPD, are complicated. With the refusal to France to ramp up partnership, Germany is once again displaying a complete lack of strategy as far as the Sahel zone is concerned.
The Crisis In The Sahel Is Getting Worse
Several armed groups remain active in the countries of the Sahel region, an area that extends south of the Sahara from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, some of whom have sworn allegiance to Islamic terrorist organizations such as IS or al-Qaida. In fact, the number of terrorist attacks by jihadist groups such as IS or organizations close to al-Qaeda have increased significantly in recent weeks.
At the end of November, 13 French soldiers who fought as part of Operation Barkhane lost their lives. In Mali, on November 18, more than 30 Malian soldiers died in a terrorist attack. In the middle of this month, 71 soldiers died in an attack on a military camp in Niger. In Burkina Faso, more than 130 people were killed just during the Christmas days.
These are without question horrible occurrences and evidence of the upheaval in the Sahel. However, with the geopolitical shift the world has witnessed in recent years, and the—at least temporary end of Pax Americana —Germany needs to fulfill its obligations to the international community. Moreover, while it will likely take until 2030 for the Bundeswehr to become a viable force (Kramp-Karrenbauer has pledged to satisfy the two percent GDP spending for the Bundeswehr as part of NATO), Germany should nonetheless support its allies in whatever way it can. Today’s world is not asking for pacifists, but realists.