West Africa - SahelBlog Analysis

Allies in Mali: cumbersome, useless, useful? The true, the false...

Arrival of the teams in Sévaré (credit: Belgian Ministry of Defence)

(BRUSSELS2) It is often fashionable to mock the weak contribution of European or North American allies to Mali. And indeed the European (and American) timidity to engage head-on in the operation in Mali – whether to support the French operation (Serval) or the European training mission (EUTM Mali) – is not feint. Not to mention the political, technical or financial difficulties, which are more trivial and even comical. But we often forget to say how useful, precious and costly this help is for those who lend their assistance. Saying this does not mean taking away from the prowess or commitment of the French soldiers who were at work first (Transall pilots, helicopters, etc. technical personnel, porpoises, paratroopers and ground troops who set out to reconquer northern Mali). ). But, at a time when France has its feet in the deficit, uttering a “cocorico” of satisfaction does not even last the breath of a Transall landing on a track in Bamako. This is the harsh reality. Without the precious and costly contribution of the Allies, it's quite simple, the “Serval” operation would not have lasted more than 72 hours... and would have cost much more without taking into account the additional risk of too slow delivery on place.

European shyness is very real

We must not deny it and not hide it. We only have to see the difficulty in bringing together a few dozen soldiers intended to ensure the “static” protection of the European troops of EUTM Mali and the impossibility so far of finding two medical evacuation helicopters (this should be resolved by this weekend). Which is still a shame! The countries of the European Union find themselves – despite all the personnel and equipment appearing on the lists of the respective defense budgets – unable to quickly provide two vehicles, the crews and the support teams, for an action that is quite classic for the armies . A priori, the risk is quite limited and has high visibility. Medical evacuation has a very good image among the populations. And, as long as it serves the benefit of civilians in difficulty, it represents a certain political and media guarantee... It is truly incomprehensible and can only arouse ridicule and derogatory comments. As for the very weak commitment of the High Representative of the EU, C. Ashton, in this matter, it is just as distressing. Take refuge behind a: “ This is a problem for the Member States » does not take anything away from the political absence.

The difficulties of the “multinational” are numerous and varied

And when the materials are there, the problems don't stop. There are “caveats” (restrictions on use). The Dutch do not land their KC-10 in this way in Bamako, for “security reasons”… Apparently these security reasons do not prevent other military planes (Belgian, Italian, Canadian, Spanish…) nor even the planes of the companies civilians (Air France, Air Algérie, etc.) to land without incident at the airport of the Malian capital. But in The Hague, we remain firm. In fact, a KLM plane has fewer limitations than a Royal Dutch Air Force plane. A shame!

The standards are also different. The British C-17 plane which landed in Evreux refused to take on board the soldiers' rations. A fussy flight manager actually found that there were… matches in the combat rations on the pallets to be transported. Impossible ! Do not mix ammunition and ignition devices in the same device. RAF rule. It took a few hours of patience and a phone call between the two Chiefs of Staff to resolve the issue.

Finally, there are the financial claims. The Americans thus wanted to make the French pay the bill rubbish on their nails. Cost of the announced bill: $50.000 per hour (all inclusive). The information having leaked to the US press, the Pentagon quickly repackaged its pretensions and returned to a more usual habit (reimbursement of additional costs incurred: kerosene, etc.). Etc.

The contribution of Belgians, Canadians, British, etc.: valuable !

When we analyze the situation, we must not stop at the glass half empty as those who mock the absence of Europe often indulge in and look at the other side of the medal (the glass half full). The contribution of European and allied resources to Operation Serval is not negligible. If we often praise the British contribution - real - we must not forget other contributions, more discreet no doubt but just as effective. The contribution of the two Belgian C-130s “ available, which can go anywhere " has been " valuable and useful “A senior French official from the Ministry of Defense recently reminded B2. As " the contribution of the Canadian C-17s ». These countries responded immediately to the French request. And the planes took off in the following days: January 14 (Monday) for the British and Canadians, the 15 (Tuesday) for the Belgians, the 17 (Thursday) for the Germans.

The Belgian C130 Hercules thus transported 280 T of equipment and 399 passengers (according to a report drawn up on February 12). And they are not content to shuttle Abidjan Bamako but will land directly as close as possible to the needs, in Gao or Timbuktu if necessary. The Canadian C17s have already carried out, according to Ottawa, 26 flights and transported approximately 730 T of equipment (as of February 13). the Spanish C-130 Hercules based in Dakar (Senegal) has already carried out, since January 26, 18 missions, totaling 60 hours of flight, taking 185 passengers and 40 tonnes of freight to Mali for the needs of the (African) MISMA and the Serval operation. (French), according to the report drawn up by the Spanish Secretary General for Defense Policy in Dublin (as of February 12). THE German C160 (Transall) carried out 48 flights carrying 337 people and 92 T equipment (according to the Bundeswehr as of February 8). For these 4 nations alone, we are already at more than 1000 tonnes transported and nearly 1000 personnel…

Without forgetting those who come as reinforcements… in France

In this list, we must not forget the discreet but essential help from the partners of the EATC – the European Transport Aviation Command. In particular the German planes which took over from the French planes for all “routine” transport operations in France. “ Who do you think transports our paratroopers for training? » This informed source therefore indicated to me. And all this comes at a steep cost: around 10 million euros for the Spanish C130 (over three months according to Madrid), $18,6 million (around 13,3 million euros) for the Canadian C17 (over a month according to Ottawa), 7 million euros for the 2 helicopters Medevac Belgians (over one month according to Pieter de Crem), etc…

Get out your calculator.

Add, multiply! And see if the European contribution was negligible. For my part, I estimate it between 60 and 100 million euros in the first month! Just as much as the French commitment announced by Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (70 million euros).

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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