EU hands 13 Arquus Bastion armored vehicles to Mali for G5 Sahel operations

The European Union recently handed over 13 Arquus Bastion armored vehicles intended to equip the two Malian battalions of the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force.

The vehicles were handed over by the European Union Special Representative for the Sahel, Angel Losada, to Brigadier General Moustapha Drabo, who leads Mali’s Materiel, Hydrocarbon and Army Transport Directorate (DMHTA), the EEAS said on Friday, January 17.

Also present at the ceremony were the E.U. Ambassador to Mali Bart Ouvry, the Deputy Commander of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, Brigadier General Mamary Camara, and the Commander of EUTM-Mali, Brigadier General João Pedro Boga Ribeiro.

The 13 Bastion armored vehicles handed over included eight configured for troop transport, two for medical evacuations, two designed to combat improvised explosive devices, and one command post vehicle.

They are part of a program to deliver a total of 46 armored vehicles to the G5 Sahel countries, funded via the E.U.’s African Peace Facility.

Thirteen vehicles have already been delivered to Niger, seven to Mauritania, four to Chad and four to Burkina Faso, AFP reported. A European diplomatic source said three more will be supplied to Chad and two to Burkina Faso.

Arquus Bastion armored vehicle
Arquus Bastion armored vehicle

Arquus Bastion armored vehicles

The Arquus Bastion is a modular range of 12-tonne armored vehicles based on the four-wheel-drive VLRA chassis.

The V-shaped monocoque hull of the Bastion protects operators and the powertrain against ballistic threats, anti-tank mines, and IEDs to between STANAG 4569 Level 1 and Level 3. Operated by two crew, the APC version can carry eight passengers.

The Bastion can be fitted with various turrets and remote weapon stations incorporating 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm weapons. It has a maximum road speed of 110 km/h (68 mph) and a range of 1,400 km. The vehicle can be transported by C-130 and A400M aircraft.

France-based Arquus, formerly Renault Trucks Defense, includes the Panhard and ACMAT brands and is owned by Swedish multinational Volvo. The group includes the U.S.-based Mack Defense LLC.

EU contributions to defense and security in the Sahel

The E.U. dedicates significant resources to development in the Sahel, and the key on-the-ground contribution to defense and security is European Union Training Mission – Mali, which has a mandate until May 2020 and costs around €20 million ($22 million) per year to maintain.

More than 600 troops from 22 member states and five non-E.U. states work with the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa), and more than 14,000 FAMa personnel have been trained since the mission was established in February 2013.

EUTM-Mali’s objectives are to improve FAMa capacity, contribute to the political and security stabilization of Mali, and support the restoration of state control over the whole country.

EUTM-Mali also works to support the operationalization of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S) through dedicated advice and training. According to a March 2018 NATO report, the FCG5S force aims to maintain seven battalions – two from both Mali and Niger and one each from Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania. Each battalion consists of 550 soldiers plus 100 police or gendarmes.

In July 2019, the E.U. announced €138 million in additional funding for the force, having previously given €115.6 million, but despite pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support for FCG5S from other international donors, funds have been slow to arrive.

In July 2018, E.U. said it would finance the construction of a new FCG5S headquarters in Mali’s capital Bamako, after a complex JNIM bomb and gun attack on its previous base in Sevaré. But a permanent location has yet to be identified, and the temporary headquarters was moved in June and again in September after protests.

The E.U. also operates two security capacity building missions in the Sahel, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger.

In November, the outgoing High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that the bloc would “increase our presence and improve the level of support we are giving to our Sahel partners.”

“This is an investment in European Union security, both in terms of fighting terrorism but also organized crime, Mogherini said, adding that that member states had agreed to “step up their efforts and their presence to support security forces, and also their political and diplomatic efforts in the Sahel, especially in Mali.”

International operations battle Islamist insurgency in the Sahel

The vehicle delivery came in the same week that France’s President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel states announced a new Coalition for the Sahel which will see increased coordination between French and local forces focused on the tri-border zone and targeting Islamic State as a priority.

The new Sahel Coalition will see forces deployed to the France-led Operation Barkhane and the FCG5S operating under joint command. Macron also announced that 220 more troops would sent to the Sahel to reinforce Barkhane.

The complex insurgency in the Sahel began in Mali in 2012, when a Tuareg separatist uprising was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north. Former colonial power France began its current military intervention in the Sahel region the following year, with Operation Serval driving the jihadists from the towns.

But the militant groups have morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, and the insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

According to the U.N, around 4,000 people were killed in militant attacks in the three Sahel countries last year.

Serval evolved in August 2014 into Operation Barkhane, with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the sub-Saharan region. Roughly 4,500 French troops are already deployed, focusing activity in insurgent-hit MaliNiger and Burkina Faso.

Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside other international operations in the Sahel, including the FCG5S and MINUSMA, the U.N. stabilization mission in Mali.

Many armed groups including Islamic State are active in the Sahel region, but the majority of attacks are attributed to JNIM, which formed in March 2017 from a merger of several smaller groups. JNIM’s leadership has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Macron said the Sahel Coalition would prioritize the fight against ISIS in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area because it is the most dangerous.

ISIS previously attributed attacks by affiliated militants in the Sahel to Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, but since May 2019, ISIS has attributed insurgent activities in the tri-border area to ISWAP, its West Africa Province affiliate that split from Boko Haram in 2016. ISWAP’s main area of operations is the Lake Chad area of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Barkhane has a growing international dimension, with France’s European partners contributing troops and equipment. Denmark deployed two Merlin helicopters that became operational in late December and Estonia is to almost double the size of its Barkhane contingent this yearChinook helicopters from the United Kingdom also support the operation.

France has for months been trying to build support for a new international task force called “Takuba.” In November, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said that France expected the new force to deploy in Mali by 2020.

Estonia was the first partner to confirm a special operations forces deployment to Takuba. A defense ministry spokesperson told The Defense Post in November that special forces will deploy to Mali in the second half of 2020 and that force will “assist, advise and accompany” the Malian Armed Forces. Belgium and the Czech Republic have also signaled that they will participate, but the U.S. and Germany have declined.

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