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France stops its cooperation with the Malian army. The Takuba task force stopped in its tracks (v2)

(B2) France has decided to suspend its cooperation with the Malian army, whether at the level of Operation Barkhane or the council, in order to protest against the military coup, said the Minister of Armies Florence Parly , Thursday (June 3) at the end of the evening. Bluff or real will? In any case, it's a risky bet

The French announcement means a 'stop' to the Takuba task force, and to the beautiful photos like this one with the French (F. Parly), Estonian (K. Laanet) and Czech (L. Metnar) Defense Ministers visiting Mali (credit: MOD Czechia)

A warning to the Bamako military junta

This message sent to certain journalists, in an unofficial press release (1), consists of three elements:

  • Demands and red lines have been set by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and by the African Union to clarify the framework for the political transition in Mali. It is up to the Malian authorities to respond quickly.
  • Pending these guarantees, France, after informing its partners and the Malian authorities, has decided to suspend, as a precaution and temporarily, the joint military operations with the Malian forces as well as the national advisory missions for their benefit. .
  • These decisions will be reassessed in the days to come in the light of the responses that will be provided by the Malian authorities.

Concretely, this means that the French soldiers of Operation Barkhane intend to continue their anti-terrorist operations across Mali, but 'solo', without the cooperation of the Malian army.

European missions continue

On the side of the European Union, until now, it had been decided to continue the missions of advice and training of their mission (EUTM Mali) of training of the FAMA, the Malian armed forces, like those dedicated to the forces of internal security (EUCAP Sahel Mali). The High Representative of the EU, Josep Borrell, confirmed this after the informal meeting of Defense Ministers last Friday (28 May) in Lisbon (Read: Coup in Mali. Europeans condemn. The EUTM Mali mission continues).

... but the situation is being closely monitored, and the posture will be adopted accordingly

Today, after the French announcement, caution seems to be in order. " The two CSDP missions, which have a non-executive mandate and are not involved in joint operations, are closely following developments in the situation and adapting their posture accordingly. The next steps will depend on the evolution of the situation on the ground said Nabila Missrali, the spokesperson for the High Representative of the EU, to B2 this Friday.

NB: note that the EUTM Mali mission is currently led by a Spanish general, Fernando Gracia Herreiz, who must be replaced by July 7 by a German general Jochen Deuer. Both members of Eurocorps, the European body, based in Strasbourg.

A few comments

A second coup very badly accepted by Paris

We can notice the speed of decision between the announcement of the coup d'etat on Monday (May 24), the first warning shot given by President Macron in an interview with the Sunday newspaper last weekend, and this announcement of the 'stop. The first coup d'etat had been perceived by several European and French leaders with a kind of relief, finally. Because it put an end to a certain immobility and a certain sluggishness of the Malian central power. This second coup, in less than a year, led by Colonel Goïta, is much less well received. If the method of the military coup d'etat is condemned, one can notice the double standards, between this coup d'etat in Mali and what must be called a coup d'etat in Chad.

The appointment of Maïga and the Malian quagmire

What seems to trouble the Élysée is the proximity of certain soldiers to Islamist circles. The announcement of the appointment of Choguel Maïga, the president of the strategic committee of the M5-RFP (Movement of June 5-Rally of Patriotic Forces), reputed to be close to the conservative imam Mahmoud Dicko, as Prime Minister, does not exactly delight the 'Elysium. And this announcement looks just as much like a 'political summons' against this appointment as against the authors of the coup.

The fear of friendly fire and the Malian quagmire

On a strictly military level, friendly fire could also be feared in the event that a Malian soldier in operation or in training suddenly turns his arms against his French military comrades. What are called in NATO terminology, attacks 'Green on Blue'. A very common practice during the engagement in Afghanistan, rarer in Mali. Decidedly, Mali is really beginning to resemble for the French the Afghanistan of the Americans, a small quagmire where it is easy to get bogged down. To advance further is difficult, to retreat is complicated, to stand still is risky...

The suspension of the Takuba task force or its termination?

At European level, this decision is a blow to the Task Force Takuba. This task force, which combines French and European special forces with Malian forces, to act in the area of ​​the three borders in Mali, must also stop its operations. It could even deal him a fatal blow, if the decision were prolonged. Many European countries were already reluctant to come and put themselves in the Malian quagmire, in an operation set up, conducted and directed by France, without any real control from either an international organization (NATO, European Union, etc.) or a parliamentary system. This suspension which was necessary shows all the fragility of a rickety device, neither really national nor really European.

Operating solo in a foreign territory?

Internally in Mali, this decision is not without risk for France. The contradiction is indeed quite intense. France refuses to recognize the military coup, and the possible civilian government that would result from it (if it does not agree with it), refuses all contact with the regular army of this country, but continues to operate in a self-governing in a territory not under its jurisdiction. In terms of principles and international law, the position is, to say the least, difficult to maintain. The denunciations of some Malian opponents crying out to the occupying force (which had not had any reality until now) could find there a more solid basis at the political (as well as legal) level.

A risky bluff

At the geopolitical level, the bet is also risky. It is to consider that without the French army, the Malian army will collapse and will not be able to hold on. A reality certainly on the ground (both technically and materially). But that ignores the natural pride of any army. It is above all not to take into account the international environment. Other countries, such as Russia, always on the lookout in black Africa (even Turkey), could appear to be ready to take over. For Russia, the fight against the Islamic State — declared a 'terrorist organization' (as the official Russia Today site takes great care to point out in each of its articles) — is also an objective. And relations between the Malian and Russian soldiers are not non-existent. On the contrary, several of its senior officers were trained in Russia (as in France) for that matter. Quite logically, faced with this coup by France, Africans could be very tempted by this alternative, if not in the short term, at least in the medium term. Emmanuel Macron's bluff would then turn against France: forced to stay to counter Russian influence (as in the Central African Republic), or to actually leave...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

A strange communication. The way this information was spread – a simple message sent by a What's app loop – is puzzling. The choice of this mode of communication, modern, but selective and evanescent, was made consciously. This demonstrates a desire for informal communication. It is however surprising for a news of this importance. The form of a press release from the Minister of the Armed Forces, or from the Elysée, as is customary in all operational decisions (for example in the event of death or a victim on the battlefield), or even a message on twitter would have been better. A what's app message can indeed be deleted and remain private, while a written press release remains and is established for all to see.  

Updated (Saturday 5.06) with the last two aspects of the comment. And rewriting of the box)

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).