It is currently the most dangerous deployment for UN troops worldwide: Mali has seen more blue helmets die every year since 2014 than in any other peacekeeping operation. In addition, thousands of German and French soldiers are helping to train and patrol the huge country in the West African Sahel, helping defend Islamists against the country.
Alone, it hardly helps. Despite international support, Mali is not doing well against the Islamists - who were barely prevented from marching to the capital Bamako in 2015 by a French war effort. On the contrary.
In the border region between Mali and Niger, a worrying pattern has been evident for the past three weeks: the national army is being attacked, its posts are being wiped out, the result being withdrawal. This is followed by the next deadly attack by a terrorist commando. And again, the Malian troops give up another border town.
At the beginning of the week at least 24 soldiers died in an attack on a military patrol according to government figures. The Malian forces were on their way to meet with soldiers from Niger. The plan was a joint operation - against Islamists.
Anti-Islamist operation failed
It should have been a punitive action. This indicates that the operation was called "Tongo Tongo":
- In the town of the same name on the Nigerian side of the border, nearly 30 Nigerien soldiers were killed in an Islamist attack in May.
- In October 2017, the United States had four casualties and its largest casualties in Africa since the Black Hawk Down debacle in Mogadishu in 1993.
But the meeting between the soldiers from Mali and Niger in Tongo Tongo did not happen. Instead, fell two dozen soldiers of the Malian train, several others were injured. Nevertheless, the Malian army tried to portray the operation as a success: 17 extremists had been killed, 100 had been captured and 70 motorcycles used by the Islamists for their raids had been destroyed.
Au cours de cet accrochage les # FAMa déplorent 24 morts, 29 blésés et des dégâts matériels. Côté ennemi l'on dénombre 17 terroristes tués, une centaine de suspects appréhendés entre les mains des forces nigériennes à #Tiloa, et 70 motos détruites. pic.twitter.com/TlTWwgaD5r- Forces Armées Maliennes (@FAMa_DIRPA) November 18, 2019
The recent attack was preceded by bloody weeks. Since the beginning of October, more than a hundred Malian security forces have died from extremist attacks. But an attack on a Malian outpost on November 1 had cost 53 soldiers his life. The "Islamic State - Province of West Africa" claimed the deed in a telegram message.
Attacks on local and international soldiers have existed in eastern Mali for years. Now the troops are mellow. The army decided to retreat from two border areas. Bamako gives up part of the Gao region. In a strip of about 50 kilometers north of the Nigerien border, there are now no more permanently stationed Malian soldiers.
But even in the medium-sized city of Ménaka, one of two retreat positions that the army wants to continue, Islamists are chasing away Malian and foreign soldiers. At the beginning of November, a soldier from France died there when a vehicle of the French "Barchane" mission crashed into a bomb.
At the border only government opponents fight with the Islamists
The alternative south of the new stop line: Rebels take control where the army has gone. Shortly after leaving the border town of Anderamboukane, the rebel group "Movement for the good of Azawad" (MSA) reported that they had taken positions in the village.
Souleymane AG ANARA / AFP
Militant fighters of MSA in the desert near Méneka (February 2018)
Although the MSA rebels are opponents of the Malian army, they are even more hostile to the Islamists. Now they are patrolling where the Malian army has retreated.
In Paris, the situation has long been observed with concern - and now hopes for the help of Germany. It seems possible that the German Armed Forces in 2020 will send special forces to reinforce the region. They are to be involved in the mission "Tacouba" ("saber"), which is to supplement "Barchane". Estonia and the Netherlands have already pledged their support.
Despite the long-standing request from France, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) remained vague during her troop visit to Mali. And in the end, of course, the Bundestag must agree to an increase and a more robust mandate of the already largest German military mission in Africa with currently about 1,100 soldiers.