It is the beginning of the end for Germany’s largest active military mission. This week, the government agreed to withdraw its troops from the West African country of Mali. The decision still needs to be approved by the Bundestag, the German parliament.
The move would end a decade-long participation in a United Nations peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA. However, the conclusion will not happen overnight.
In a compromise between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his defense and foreign ministers, who disagreed on the issue, the withdrawal of German troops will begin in May 2023 and “be extended for a year to phase out this decade-long operation. To let expire”. in a structured way,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement.
That means that the Bundestag, which votes each year on whether to extend the mission, must first extend it before it is finally terminated – by May 2024.
In the latest vote on extension, the Bundestag included an increase in troop contributions, from 1,100 in 2021 to 1,400 in 2022. That makes up about 10% of the total UN force in Mali, although UN figures show that only about a third of the the approved increase in German troops had actually been grounded since last month.
The shadow of the debacle in Afghanistan
The Bundestag’s extension vote earlier this year came just months after a hasty move by the US to end its failed two-decade-long commitment to Afghanistan forced allies such as Germany, which had a sizeable force there, to also clamor for the exit. hurry.
The experience led to a parliamentary inquiry and review of German military operations around the world. At the same time, German officials wanted to show their continued commitment to international commitments. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany has expressed a stronger desire to prove to allies that it can defend their and its own interests.
The tension has cornered the operation in Mali, Germany’s largest and most dangerous after Afghanistan.
“While both missions cannot be compared directly, it is clear that the German government does not want to repeat the experience in Afghanistan,” Miriam Katharina Hess, a research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), told TSTIME.
What the operations in Mali and Afghanistan have in common is the broad goal of protecting civilians from extremist violence and ensuring a political transition to democratic governance. In either case, Germany and its allies have little to prove for their efforts.
Rival jihadist militant groups continue to pose a threat, and multiple military coups have rocked the country, despite the multinational military presence. Current authorities have thwarted the UN mission as they moved closer to a Russian force in the country.
Western observers believe this includes a paramilitary contingent such as the Wagner Group, a private security contractor accused of human rights abuses.
This set of factors, Hess said, has made it difficult for the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, to operate safely, to the point that “the Bundeswehr’s presence in Mali seems pointless.”
A German way out
Nearly 300 UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali, including three Germans. African countries provide the bulk of the force.
Mali has been the scene of a hodgepodge of foreign security efforts that have all stumbled in recent times. In addition to the UN mission, the former colonial ruler of Mali, France, led his own combat mission against militants, which ended earlier this year. European Union training of Malian troops, to which Germany contributed personnel, is also on ice.
With its Western allies wrapping up, “Germany’s position to remain became increasingly isolated,” Theodore Murphy, the program director for Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told TSTIME. “Germany seems determined to stick to its own advice, even if its European partners were unconvinced.”
Cautious as the German withdrawal may be, DGAP’s Hess warned that, as in Afghanistan, “the power and potential of jihadist and other armed violent groups is once again underestimated.”
Critics have berated the government for trying to find a happy medium between staying largely alone and leaving outright.
“It would interest me why this decision is being made now and why the withdrawal will not take place until mid-2024,” Thomas Erndl, a lawmaker in the conservative opposition bloc, said during the Bundestag debate on Wednesday. “Especially since [Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock] has said here that UN missions remain central to our foreign policy.”
Security in the Sahel
The government has based its logic in part on elections scheduled for February 2024 in Mali that its troops want to help secure. In her remarks in the Bundestag, Baerbock, who is also a legislator with the ruling Greens, cited the long withdrawal period as a way of demonstrating that Germany is a “reliable partner”.
“It is the opposite of a reliable foreign policy to rush ahead,” she said, using a phrase often attributed to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Policymakers and regional analysts wonder what, if anything, will replace German and other foreign forces that can keep extremists at bay and deny Russia access to the Sahel region. While Germany has interests there, “they do not justify pursuing a fundamentally flawed strategy,” ECFR’s Murphy said.
Shifting resources to friendly countries in the region, which German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has suggested as a possibility, would “repeat the same approach and hope for different results,” he added.
Edited by Ben Knight