The Czechs are taking command of EUTM Mali

(B2) Already participating in EUTM Mali since the beginning, the Czechs are moving up. They will be taking command of the EU training mission of the Malian army next year

The Czech contingent at EUTM Mali in October during the ceremony of medals presentation (credit : Czech Army)

General Aleš Opata, Chief of the Army Staff, confirmed it on Wednesday (20th November) at the annual meeting of the Czech command. « One of the priorities of the Czech army remains missions abroad ».

Coming after the Portuguese

The Czechs are expected to take command of the mission deployed in Mali in June 2020 (according to our sources). They will take over from the Portuguese, who will take over in December from the Austrians currently in command. Brigadier General Frantisek Ridzak, currently the Director of information and communication systems for the army, will become the head of the mission. And stay there for six months. This is the first time that a military mission/operation on African soil has been commanded by an officer from a Central European country, showing Prague’s significant commitment in this area.

A certain political consensus

In the Czech Republic, this effort is supported by both the Head of Government and the Head of State. In the context of local politics this step is a big success. « International terrorism remains a global threat », President Miloš Zeman told officers yesterday, marking his « refusal to withdraw troops from the NATO mission in Afghanistan ». I am « very happy that our army is active in foreign missions » mentioned Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.

A continuous Czech presence

For the Czechs, Mali’s terrain is not new. They have been there since February 2013, meaning since the beginning of the mission, and performing an essential function: the protection of bases (Bamako and Koulikoro), providing armed escorts for individuals, as well as representing the rapid reaction force, along with training the members of the Malian armed forces, particularly in VIP protection missions.

A contingent of 120 soldiers

Their presence is not symbolic, as there are currently 120 Czech soldiers in the mission. According to the latest relief, they for the most part belong to the 72nd Mechanised Battalion of Přáslavice. This unit is used to delicate missions : a detachment is coming back from Bagram in Afghanistan where it was responsible for securing the NATO base with Georgians, Americans and Afghans.

Acquiring an African experience

For almost half of them, however, this is their first deployment abroad. They are « coming to Africa to gain valuable experience » explains Captain Marek Maxim Švancara, media officer in the Czech army. Unlike the missions in Afghanistan, and even more so in Europe, they will have to « face a wider range of tasks, higher temperatures and humidity », not to mention the « possibility of tropical diseases, increased language requirements, as well as more rustic living conditions ». A useful African test.

The challenge is no small one

The Czechs will have to ensure both the continuity of the missions and their evolution, according to what will be decided by the EU Defence Ministers, following the strategic review that has just begun (to read : Sahel. Une inquiétude européenne de plus en plus accrue. Faut-il changer le logiciel d’EUTM Mali). The challenge is to “harden” the training as well as to provide some mentoring, moving outside Bamako (the mission HQ) and Koulikoro (the training centre) if necessary. This hardening could complement the special forces operation (to read : Plusieurs pays européens s’engagent ou songent à s’engager au Mali (opération Takuba)).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also : Un ‘surge’ pour les missions PSDC au Sahel et en Somalie. EUTM Mali et EUNAVFOR Atalanta réorientées ? (FR)

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).