Death of 13 soldiers in Mali highlights France’s isolation in Sahel region

"The whole of Europe is in mourning because in Mali, as elsewhere, it is the French army that defends Europe's honour and security," said outgoing EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON / POOL

Outgoing EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker noted that the French army is alone when defending Europe’s honour and security in Mali, in a fairly direct message to Germany. EURACTIV France reports.

EU member states have demonstrated solidarity when they found out that 13 French soldiers died in Mali on Monday (25 November) following the collision of two helicopters engaged in a combat mission against jihadists.

It was the deadliest accident since the mission, which aims to contain pro-Islamist forces in the Sahel, began in 2013. This latest bloody episode underscores France’s isolation in these operations.

“The whole of Europe is in mourning because in Mali, as elsewhere, it is the French army that defends Europe’s honour and security,” said Juncker.

EU and France ramp up €1.3bn support for G5 Sahel

The EU and France ramped up their funding for the G5 Sahel anti-terror alliance to €1.3bn at a two day donor summit in Mauritania on Thursday (6 December).

The EU has been particularly quick to highlight France’s role in protecting the EU’s interests in Africa by attempting to combat jihadism in Africa, a scourge that also threatens the whole of Europe.

“France’s commitment is an essential contribution to the EU’s efforts in the region”, said the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini.

The Commission also expressed strong support, insisting that France was almost alone in the region, highlighting that the logistical support that certain countries such as Germany, Spain, but also Canada and the United States, are providing to the Barkhane mission appears symbolic, compared to the 41 French soldiers who have died since the beginning of the operation.

EU relies on stability in the Sahel for its own security

“Europe’s security, and that of Spain, depend on security in the Sahel,” said the EU Special Representative for the Sahel, Ángel Losada. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports.

Germany has, of course, joined in the general condolences, but continues to avoid mentioning the delicate issue of the role of France, whose military effort is unique in Europe and insufficiently shared according to Paris.

“They were engaged in an operation that protects both our countries,” said British Ambassador Ed Llewelyn.

Among the victims was the son of former French centrist minister and senator Jean-Marie Bockel. While some of the soldiers killed belonged to the 5th combat helicopter regiment based in Pau (southwest), others were part of the 4th fighter regiment based in Gap (southeast).

Between the financial costs of Operation Barkhane, which supports the military efforts of the Sahel countries, and the human cost, the bill is particularly high.

While 4,500 French soldiers, seven fighter jets and 19 helicopters have been deployed on the ground so far, 41 French soldiers have already died.

Germany on the defence over military spending shortfalls

Germany restated its commitment to higher defence spending on Wednesday (3 April), seeking to defuse tensions between Berlin and Washington after a storm of criticism from the Trump administration over Germany’s shortfalls in NATO contributions.

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