France Extends Mali Mission, Army Training Underfunded

France commits to Mali’s counterinsurgency but the army there is in a shambles.

Soldiers from Niger join Malian army forces to battle an Islamist insurgency in their country, January 30
Soldiers from Niger join Malian army forces to battle an Islamist insurgency in their country, January 30 (EMA/Ministère de la Défense)

France’s parliament on Monday voted to extend its military mission in West African Mali despite complaints from one of its officers that the effort is underfunded.

“They’re managing misery,” Bruno Heluin, who runs the European Union’s training of Malian soldiers, told Le Monde newspaper. He complained of corruption, nepotism and theft in the army and accused foreign powers of failing to honor their promises of aid.

The international community said, “We absolutely need to rebuild the Malian army.” But not one euro cent has been given to the Malian army.

France is slowly pulling its soldiers out of the country, currently numbering some 4,000, after it intervened in January to help Malian forces drive back an offensive by Islamist militants who had declared an independent state in the north. French troops and fighter jets, supported by American and European allies, forced the insurgents to abandon their strongholds and seek refuge in the desert. Central government control was nominally restored.

President François Hollande announced late last month that French troop levels will be reduced to 1,000 by year’s end. His government is counting on a West African peacekeeping force, to be composed of up to 8,000 soldiers from neighboring countries, mainly Chad and Nigeria, to take over to prevent the rebels from resurging in a territory that is comparable in size to France itself.

However, the West Africans have struggled to organize their military effort. They will likely need more support from France and other Western nations to provide airlifts, ammunition, communications equipment and field hospitals to be able to mount an effective force for a prolonged period of time.

Meanwhile, the composition of the remaining rebel alliance has shifted. Mainstream Tuareg secessionists, who seek a state of their own in the north of Mali, have joined the counterinsurgency against radical Islamists who hijacked their uprising last year. The latter count among their ranks members of Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing, Tuareg radicals and fighters that were displaced by Algerian counterterrorism operations and Arab and Western powers’ intervention in Libya’s civil war.

Some of the Tuareg fighters are former army troops who were armed and trained by the United States, Heluin told Le Monde.

America provided logistical support for France’s intervention in its former colony after an official had complained that it was “dragging its feet” on a request for air tankers to help fuel French fighter jets.