German troops have started to withdraw from Mali as the mission that has been hampered by disputes with the ruling military junta in Bamako and the arrival of Russian forces.
Germany deployed some 1,000 troops to Mali, most near the northern town of Gao where their main task is to gather reconnaissance for the U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.
In August last year, Germany military suspended all reconnaissance and transport operations in Mali after a planned personnel rotation was blocked by Malian authorities.
The decision was taken after Malian authorities prevented a flight carrying 110 German soldiers deployed with a United Nations peacekeeping mission from leaving the country, a defense ministry spokesman Arne Collatz told reporters Friday. Another 140 personnel, who were supposed to replace French troops that are in the process of withdrawing, couldn’t travel to the West African nation, he said.
Barely a month, Berlin reversed the decision, stating that a unit that arrived in Gao, “was now fully ready to work, and had taken over the task of securing the camp”
Nevertheless, recently the German military has begun shipping the first components of what amounts to some 1,300 container loads of equipment, the German commander in Mali, Colonel Heiko Bohnsack, told the daily Tagesspiegel in an interview published on Wednesday.
In the first stages of the withdrawal, the material in place will slowly be thinned out while the troops will maintain all means to fulfil their mission, he added.
Also on Wednesday, the government in Berlin paved the way for a last one-year extension of the decade-old mission until May 2024, a decision that is still subject to approval by the lower house of parliament.
MINUSMA was established in 2013 to support foreign and local troops battling Islamist militants but in recent months there have been repeated instances of friction between the Malian authorities and the mission.
MINUSMA has about 12,000 military personnel deployed in the country. The three largest contributors are Chad, Bangladesh and Egypt.
Europe’s relations with Mali have deteriorated since a military coup in 2020 and since the government invited fighters from the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private military company, to support its fight against insurgents.
That prompted France to withdraw its troops in 2022 after almost a decade in Mali.
Germany, with 1,100 troops, is the biggest Western contingent in the UN mission. In 2019, Germany donated 29 Casspir armoured personnel carriers and other equipment including 4,100 bullet-resistant vests, 4,300 combat boots, and 2,700 ballistic helmets to Mali.
Six months ago, the Malian junta led by coupist Colonel Assimi Goïta denied overflight permission to Western forces currently fighting jihadists in the region.
Mali’s junta declared that Western militaries including the UK, France, and Germany cannot operate their aircraft and drones in Malian airspace.
In February last year, Germany deployed five of its CH-53G Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters and an additional 120 personnel to Gao, Mali to support the United Nations mission (MINUSMA).