Fifteen European countries have called on the military junta ruling Mali to allow Danish troops to remain in the country in West Africa, forming the heart of a jihadist uprising that has displaced thousands and killed millions.
Mali’s interim government, led by a coup d’état in 2020 that ousted the democratically elected president, called on Denmark earlier this week to immediately withdraw some 90 special forces troops deployed to join a French-led European counter-offensive. to join terrorist power. The move comes as the junta took an increasingly hostile stance towards the former colonial power France and moved closer to the former Cold War ally, Russia.
European countries said in a statement on Wednesday that the deployment was legal and called on the interim Malian government “to respect the solid foundations on which our diplomatic and operational cooperation is based”.
“They act in full compliance with international and national laws in their support of the Malian armed forces and in their long-standing struggle against armed terrorist groups,” the statement said.
Al-Qaeda and Isis-linked groups control large parts of the area over central and northern Mali, which briefly captured jihadis in 2012, causing a brutal spiral of violence that spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Danish troops arrived in the country earlier this week to join the European counter-terrorism force, known as Takuba. But the Malian government said in a statement that “no agreement authorizes the deployment of Danish special forces”.
Takuba is partly intended to replace Operation Barkhane, France’s mission of 5,000 troops in the Sahel, which has been active since 2013 and is currently being abolished. It is mainly French, but includes troops from Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and other nations. Norway, Portugal and Hungary are awaiting approval to deploy troops to join Takuba.
Mali’s government has reacted with indignation to France’s decision last summer to halve the number of troops in Barkhane and close some of its bases in the country to focus more closely on the three border border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
With France’s departure, the junta turned to the Kremlin-linked Wagner group, whose mercenaries have been accused by the UN of possible war crimes in Libya and the Central African Republic. The junta denies concluding a contract with Wagner, who according to Western analysts is an unofficial arm of Moscow.
But diplomats in Bamako and an official in northern Mali told the Financial Times that hundreds of the Wagner group’s fighters were already in the country. General Stephen Townsend, head of US Africa Command, expressed this sentiment in a maintenance with Voice of America last week.
“They are deployed there, supported by the Russian army. “Russian air force planes are delivering them,” Townsend said. “The world can see it happening. . . This is a big concern for us. “
William Linder, president of risk consulting 14 North Strategies and a former CIA official with experience in the Sahel, said: “Mali’s junta, consciously or unconsciously, is making itself a pawn in Russia’s game.”
“The junta probably feels that opposing the French, with Russian encouragement, is gaining their legitimacy and public support. “In the end, Russia will benefit, Europe will be less united and jihadists will gain a foothold in the Sahel.”