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The Czechs will take command of the EUTM Mali mission (v2)

(B2) Present in EUTM Mali from the start, the Czechs will move up a gear. They will take command of the Malian army training mission next year

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

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

In relay of the Portuguese

The Czechs should take command of the mission deployed in Mali in June 2020 (according to our information). They will come to relay the Portuguese who will take over in December from the Austrians currently in command. This is the brigadier general Frantisek Ridzak, current director of information and communication systems of the army, who will be the head of the EUTM Mali mission. This 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. This demonstrates Prague's notable commitment in this area.

A certain political consensus

This effort is supported by both the head of government and the head of state. Which, in the context of local politics, is no small success. “ International terrorism remains a global threat President Miloš Zeman told the officers yesterday, marking in passing his “ refusal of the possibility of withdrawing Alliance troops from Afghanistan ". I am " very happy that our army is active in foreign missions greeted Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.

A continuous Czech presence

For the Czechs, the Malian terrain is not new. They have been present continuously, since February 2013, that is to say the start of the mission, ensuring an essential function: the protection of the bases (Bamako and Koulikoro), the armed escorts of people, as well as the force rapid reaction, as well as the training of members of the Malian armed forces, particularly in VIP protection missions.

A contingent of 120 soldiers

This presence is not symbolic. 120 Czech soldiers are currently present in the mission. Most of them, according to the last shift, belong to the 72nd mechanized battalion from Přáslavice. A unit used to delicate missions: a detachment returns from Bagram in Afghanistan where it was responsible for securing the NATO base with the Georgians, Americans and Afghans.

Gain African experience

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

The challenge is not small

The Czechs will have to ensure both the continuity of the missions, but also their evolution, according to what the EU Defense Ministers decide, at the end of the strategic review which has just started (read: Sahel. Growing European concern. Should we change the software of EUTM Mali). The challenge is to 'harden' the training and also ensure a little mentoring, traveling if necessary outside of Bamako (the mission HQ) and Koulikoro (the training center). This toughening could complement the special forces operation (read: Several European countries are engaged or are considering engaging in Mali (Operation Takuba).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: A 'surge' for CSDP missions in the Sahel and Somalia. EUTM Mali and EUNAVFOR Atalanta reoriented?

Updated with a correction on the Austrian Command

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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