Germany on Wednesday said it had agreed to raise its contingent in the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali to a maximum of 1,400 troops from 1,100 previously to help plug gaps left by a French pullout.
“The upper limit was increased by 300. This is intended to compensate for capacities previously undertaken by French forces,” said government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann, who added that the Mali mandate had been extended to May 31, 2023.
The announcement comes as France is pulling its forces out of Mali, which are separate from MINUSMA, after relations with the country’s ruling junta broke down.
These forces — part of France’s Barkhane anti-jihadist mission in the Sahel — have also played an important part supporting UN troops in the country, especially with air power.
As a result of the French decision, Germany has been mulling its deployment in Mali.
Alongside its extension of its MINUSMA participation, it said it was shrinking its training mission as part of the EU’s deployment EUTM to “minimal presence” as the bloc put the mission on ice.
The upper limit of its deployment in EUTM would be halved to 300 from 600, with the majority of the forces to be stationed in neighboring Niger, where the training mission Gazelle continues.
An impoverished nation of 21 million people, Mali has over the past decade been wracked by Islamist violence. Swathes of the country are in thrall to myriad rebel groups and militias.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.
Mali’s under-equipped army has also often been accused of committing abuses during the brutal conflict.
France, Mali’s former colony, dispatched troops in 2013 to help quell a jihadist-fuelled revolt in the north of the country.
The rebels were scattered but regrouped to lead a bloody insurgency in the center of the country that then spread into Niger and Burkina Faso.
The Barkhane force is winding up its operations in Mali after relations broke down following the ouster of elected leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020.
One of the biggest factors in the bust-up has been the arrival of Russian operatives, described by Mali’s junta as military instructors but by France as mercenaries.
The UN’s Security Council next month is to determine whether to renew the mandate of MINUSMA, the acronym for the Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali.
With 14,000 troops and police, the force is one of the biggest UN operations in the world, but it has also suffered some of the heaviest losses.
Since its deployment in 2013, MINUSMA has lost 170 members, many of them lost to roadside bombs or in ambushes.
Last week UN chief Antonio Guterres said Mali could collapse if the UN peacekeeping mission withdrew.
But he suggested an option could be to replace it with an African Union force backed by a tougher operating mandate, enabling it to intervene more robustly.