The German district hospital is located directly in the grounds of the Malian army’s military academy in Koulikoro. Between trees, training facilities and living quarters, 38 tents nestle on the ground, which in the West African heat reaches daytime temperatures of 40 degrees and more even in the spring. Since the end of March, 40 German, six Austrian and three Hungarian soldiers, both male and female, have been providing medical care to the 450 members of the European Union Training Mission Mali (EUTM Mali), one of five military missions in Africa in which Germany is participating as part of the European Union (EU). In late February 2013, the German Bundestag voted to send up to 180 German soldiers to Mali, including 40 medical orderlies and 40 engineers.
Headed by a German doctor and medical officer, the airborne rescue centre meets all the clinical requirements for a German district hospital. It comprises an operating theatre, an intensive care unit and a general ward, a laboratory, an X-ray department and a dispensary. The ten medical staff from Germany and Austria even include a dentist. Comprehensive medical care for the troops is one of the conditions that members of the German Bundestag always lay down before approving a deployment abroad. The high standard of care required by the Germans is also benefiting all the other members of the EU mission in Mali.
Mali is now on its way out of a serious crisis, which began one year ago. Following a military coup in April 2012 and the capture of large swaths of territory in the north by rebel groups and Islamist terrorists, the West African country was effectively divided in two. The new state proclaimed by the insurgents failed to gain international recognition. When Islamist militias marched on southern Mali in early January and the country – politically paralyzed and militarily hamstrung by the coup – threatened to fall entirely into their hands, French army units intervened. The request for help came from the government in the capital Bamako. The French troops quickly succeeded in halting the Islamists’ advance and in largely ousting them from the major towns in the north. The jihadist groups, principally the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), have since changed their tactics, now avoiding direct engagements and instead launching bomb attacks on the local population and state security forces in the towns of the north.
The militias’ virtually unhindered advance during the past year demonstrated the Malian army’s unpreparedness. Its troops are poorly equipped and trained, and they lack motivation and loyalty to the state. The EU mission is designed to help change that. The UN Security Council-mandated deployment is intended to enable the Malian military to assume responsibility for further stabilizing the country. That also means keeping Islamist militias out of the country permanently. Until the Malian armed forces have achieved this capability, the task is being performed by a rapid reaction force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Malian soldiers are being trained in the grounds of the military academy in Koulikoro, some 60 kilometres northeast of the capital Bamako. Mali’s armed forces are being restructured, with members of the EUTM providing advisory support. As part of the multinational mission, Germany has assumed responsibility for training engineers. Members of the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, are, for example, training Malian troops to detect and defuse mines and other explosive devices and teaching them how to set up a so-called combat outpost quickly and with limited resources.
Somalia is the second focus of European military training assistance in Africa. There is basically no functioning state there, the last central government having been overthrown in 1991. A civil war ensued and large swaths of the country are still ruled by clans and militias of the radical Islamist group Al-Shabab. However, international efforts to resolve the crisis in the East African country have brought initial success. Last year, the country received a new constitution and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud became the first president in a long time to head an apparently stable government. The European Union Training Mission in Somalia (EUTM SOM) has had some hand in this success. It is helping ensure that Somalia’s armed forces, which are currently being rebuilt, have the capability to fight the state’s enemies with increasing effectiveness.
For security reasons, part of the training, which began in spring 2010, is taking place not in Somalia but in Bihanga, Uganda. In the hilly expanses of the savanna, 150 European troops, including 20 Germans, are teaching the prospective leaders of the Somali army how to successfully fight an enemy that is dug in in towns and villages, how to administer first aid to wounded soldiers, and how to detect and defuse explosive devices. The idea is that the Somali soldiers then pass on their knowledge to members of their respective units, here too with advisory support from European military instructors. The EU mission has since been expanded from Uganda to the Somali capital Mogadishu to enable direct support to be provided on the ground to rebuild the country’s armed forces. For the time being, though, the up to 20 Bundeswehr soldiers will remain in Bihanga.
Europe’s largest and most expensive military deployment is taking place not on land but on water. The area of sea off the coast of Somalia is globally the region under the greatest threat from piracy. The situation is compounded by the fact that the Gulf of Aden, located off the Somali coast, is one of the key international shipping routes. The Atalanta mission (EU NAVFOR Somalia – Operation Atalanta) was launched in December 2008 to protect deliveries to Somalia by the World Food Programme and additionally to ensure the safety of this sea route for other passing ships. The mission currently comprises seven ships from Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Germany. The Bundeswehr is providing a frigate and a reconnaissance aircraft as well as a total of nearly 300 troops, most of whom patrol the deployment area from their base in Djibouti. The long-term goal, though, is for the neighbouring countries to control their own coastal areas. To this end, in July of last year the European Union established the civilian mission EUCAP Nestor. The aim of this mission is to provide help – initially to Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and the Seychelles – in building functioning coast guard services. Other countries around the western Indian Ocean may be next in line.
Lastly, EU military advisers are helping the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to reform the country’s armed forces. The Bundeswehr is currently providing three soldiers to support the EUSEC RD Congo mission. All five EU missions have one main thing in common: they are designed to help stabilize countries severely ravaged by war. If it is to avoid jeopardizing these initial successes, the European Union will need staying power. ▪