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How many European soldiers are present in the Sahel? How many are in Barkhane? (v3)

(B2) Between the Ministry of Defense and Le Canard Enchainé, the war of figures rages on the European commitment in the Sahel

A British Chinook 'walking' a container in support of Barkhane- Camp Roberts, Gao, Mali (credit: Royal Air Force)

2500 Europeans help us in the Sahel (Parly)

It all started with a statement by Florence Parly on the Orleans base on February 1... Following the motto of the Élysée 'we are not alone in the Sahel, the Europeans are helping us', the Minister for the Armed Forces declared: " Today in the Sahel, there are still 5100 French people, as you know; but, and it is less known, there are also nearly 2500 Europeans. And further on she adds: Our European allies are also at our side within the Barkhane force ».

Parly and its phantom Europeans ! (Duck)

In Le Canard Enchainé published this Wednesday (10.02), the colleagues of the 'plumitif' go on the attack, bayonets fixed, lighting " Parly and its phantom Europeans ". They stick together the two ends of the sentence on the presence of " within the Barkhan Forcee" and the digit of " nearly 2500 Europeans on site. " Even in " adding the European instructors from the local armies, the European blue helmets and the contingent of around thirty Estonians from the Takuba force, we are far from the quantified rantings of Parly ” assert our colleague, with the verve that we know him.

There are about 2900 Balard replica Europeans

At the Hotel de Brienne (the seat of the French Ministry of Defence), as at Balard (the seat of the ministry), the blood boils, and we reply, calculator in hand. There is actually " about 2900 European soldiers in the Sahel (outside France) explains spokesperson Hervé Grandjean in a message sent to the defense press (including B2):

  • “1500 at MINUSMA, (mainly Germans and British)
  • “600 currently at EUTM, (there will be 1070 in summer 2021)
  • “425 within Barkhane (Swedes, Estonians, Czechs, British)
  • “320 in bilateral missions (example: mission to train a Nigerien battalion led by 200 German soldiers. Italians, Belgians also conduct training for Niger, in bilateral format). »

The battle of numbers

Let's be clear: seeing clearly is not always easy, as having all the figures is not easy.

Pan on the beak!

But, it seems a certain fact: the Chained Duck (which we knew more exactly) literally wallowed. Did our colleagues rely on old figures, or did they fall into the cute sin of hitting the army, Florence Parly and the Europeans at the same time, adding the pleasure of making a good word? Still, the accuracy... On the one hand, the Minister clearly separated the Takuba aspect (“The Europeans are now there”), taking care not to give a figure that would have been a little ridiculous. And it is only on the presence in the Sahel that she asserts the figure of 'nearly 2500'.

Let's be crazy, let's be blurry!

The Ministry of the Armed Forces loves to play with words and numbers. You can get caught up in it if you're not careful. Thus he tends to count both the present and the future (the Germans of the Gazelle mission are thus counted once in the bilateral and once in the future of EUTM Mali... but they are the same ones who change caps). At B2 we also learned to be wary of these vague rigors, especially on the political side. Thus on Tuesday (9.02), Florence Parly, before the Senate, affirms that the Germans, " second contributor to this training [= EUTM Mali]! provide 800 soldiers, and there will be 250 more by the end of 2021. “A little daring! In EUTM today, the Germans are a hundred. But it's true that if we combine EUTM + MINUSMA, the account is good...

The reconstituted workforce

you must therefore be careful. Because, even by checking on one side and the other, it is difficult to have figures sticking to the reality of the day. But here's what I have in my shelves.

On the side of the task force Takuba (integrated into Barkhane), contrary to what Le Canard says, there are not only Estonians (a good thirty), there are Czechs (about 35 + 20 support?) and Swedes arriving (soon 150). (Also read: Force Takuba: who participates, observes or simply supports?)

Barkhane side, there are also about a hundred Britons (operation Newcombe) with their three Chinook helicopters (of the RAF's 27th Squadron based in Odiham) which provide invaluable support (even if across the Channel it is felt that they could be more useful to the UN). We must not forget the Spanish detachment ('Marfil'), based in Senegal, which carries out regular transport rotations (for Barkhane such as EUTM Mali or Minusma), with a staff of 66 and two Casa C-295s (from 35th wing of Getafe). Very helpful support. An officer confided some time ago that this represented 15% of transports! Finally, we have about fifty Estonians who continue to participate in Operation Barkhane (force protection according to my information).

Listed EUTM Mali (the training mission of the Malian army), we are indeed today (11.02) above the gauge of 600 soldiers. Exactly, we are approaching the 800 soldiers deployed: a little less than 170 at HQ and 24 at the airport, a little less than 600 at the Koulikoro training camp. And indeed we should arrive at a workforce of 1077 (exactly) by the summer of 2021. At least that is the workforce listed in the mandate, with the integration of the German training team currently in Niger. (read : EUTM Mali takes over the collar. New bases, outings throughout Mali, integrated Gazelle. Waiting for Burkina and Niger).

Listed Minusma (the UN mission), I actually have 930 Germans and 300 Britons on my side (250 in the task group and 50 in support of Gao) from Light Dragons et Royal Anglian Regiment ). Figures confirmed at B2 in London and Berlin. There are also about 250 soldiers from other European countries (60 Portuguese, 95 Belgians, Norwegians, Danes, Irish)... and around twenty French. We thus arrive at the mentioned workforce of 1500 ministry personnel.

  • NB: the German workforce has increased significantly since the beginning of the year (the latest Minusma report, dating from December, still indicates 425 personnel). The (theoretical) number authorized by the Bundestag is 1100 personnel. The relief coming from the 12th Panzerbrigade supported by the 2nd mountain infantry brigade is preparing

On the bilateral side, the given figure of 300 seems correct with in particular a few hundred Belgians in the 'Nero' training mission in Niger (reached recently by the Covid-19), and just under 200 Germans in the 'Gazelle' training mission (which will be integrated into the EUTM Mali mission).

Conclusion: Parly 1, Duck 0

In the end, if we add it all up (about 400 Barkhane-Takuba + 800 Eutm + 1500 Minusma + 300 bilateral), we arrive well above the figure of 2500 quoted by Minister Florence Parly. And in the area of ​​​​2900 personnel given by the ministry (even slightly above). And, again, we have not counted the support staff for the internal security forces, present in the two EUCAP European missions in Mali and Niger, often made up of seasoned police or gendarmerie personnel. If we take them into account, we greatly exceed the figure of 3000. This is not negligible at all!

If we stay on the dimension Takuba, It is off the mark. With a little over 200 men today in fact, we are very far from the objective of 600 personnel (if I remember correctly) displayed at the start of the reflection on the establishment of a task force of forces European Special Forces by the Armed Forces Staff).

A second-line commitment, not without risks

The Europeans are getting involved in the Sahel, that's a fact, and quite significantly. But they remain on second line missions (training, logistics, transport, security). Few actually engage in the front line (less than 10%). But this commitment should not be neglected. Engaging in the Sahel is not easy. All forces are at risk. European diplomats paid for it with their lives in Bamako. It's not the same as deploying forces to Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo, which (let's be honest) feel like a walk in the park.

A tricky case for Paris

However, France finds itself in the Sahel in the same position as the Americans in Afghanistan, regularly obliged to ring the bells of its allies to ask them for personnel and means. Except that Paris does not have the means of Washington, it is necessary to use persuasion, exchanges of good practices (you come to the Sahel, I help you on such or such mission). Public communication is therefore essential, especially at European level. Hence the (sudden) great sensitivity of the ministry as soon as the word European is pronounced. Sensitivity which will increase. Because in the first half of 1, that is to say quickly, the French presidency of the Union will come. Where the government intends to shine with a thousand lights (European mantra of E. Macron... but especially presidential election deadline oblige).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also:

(updated) Article updated and corrected with the latest figures provided by the Bundeswehr and EUTM Mali (updated to 11.02). Comments revised accordingly.

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).