West Africa - SahelBlog AnalysisMissions Operations

A group of European special forces within Barkhane. It's moving slowly

(B2) In order to complete the action of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel (Mali, Burkina Faso), the French requested around ten European countries to provide them with some special forces personnel. But the answers are slow

Belgian special forces in training in Senegal (credit: Mil.be / Archives B2)

The goal : mentoring

The objective is to have a group of a few hundred soldiers capable of deploying in different locations in Mali to support the Sahelian armed forces after having trained them. This involves doing what is called in operational jargon 'mentoring'. This would allow French forces to concentrate on other geographical areas, to track down armed terrorist groups.

A call for European special forces

The idea had already been mentioned by Minister Florence Parly to the special forces in Pau in mid-June. “ If the Europeans, who are directly concerned, do not do it, who will? » she asked herself, evoking “ a project which consists of bringing together special forces from different countries in order to support the efforts of our special forces, in the Sahel for example ". She was optimistic. “ The feedback is encouraging and I am hopeful that this project will be able to prosper she would say.

Radio silence on progress

Since then, we do not seem to have made any decisive progress. And, in front of the defense summer university in Avord (near Bourges), Friday (September 13), the minister was careful not to mention this subject. No one, moreover, ventures to put forward a date for the establishment of this force. Internal consultation processes in each country are underway, we are assured. But the unstable political situation in several countries makes things very complicated (1).

Several IEI countries consulted

The list of consulted countries itself remains secret. " No need to put pressure on the countries concerned » we specify officially. But, according to our information, the Netherlands and Estonia were very concretely asked to provide a few dozen soldiers each, as well as Spain, Denmark and the United Kingdom and other countries participating in the Initiative European Intervention Agency (IEI) (2). The objective is to constitute a force of 400-450 people.

A minimum threshold set at 200 people to be effective

In terms of concrete commitment, for the moment, however, we seem far from it. Gold, " to have a real effect, you need to have 200-250 people » a senior officer told B2. Otherwise, it will not be possible to have a specialized and autonomous force. The only solution will then be to integrate external contributions into the Barkhane force, as is currently the case for the fifty Estonian soldiers or the British helicopters.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Government in current affairs in Belgium, in search of a majority in Spain, resulting from a reversal of alliance in Italy, prey to internal dissensions in the United Kingdom or with a question mark in Germany. Not to mention government changes following general elections, such as in Finland or Estonia.
  2. NB: Officially this idea is not the IEI. “ We must not associate with the IEI what it is not », explains to B2 a very good expert on the subject. The goal of the initiative is not operations or having a task force,” but anticipation, strategic thinking, sharing of analyzes ».

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).