Tag Archives: Operation Serval

Dutch Deploy to Mali as French Plan to Withdraw

President Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday that France would be reducing its force in Mali, which currently stands at approximately twenty-five hundred personnel.  France had deployed thousands of troops at the peak of its intervention, Operation Serval, which began in January 2013.  France is now looking to reduce its contribution in the country down to some sixteen hundred individuals by the middle of next month.

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013.

The French are hoping to shift some of the burden onto other nations contributing forces to the UN mission in the country, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  Among these contributors are the Dutch, who announced in November that they were planning on sending a contingent to the country.  In December, the Dutch parliament approved the deployment of a force of almost four hundred individuals and associated equipment in support of the MINUSMA mission.  The Dutch had previously assisted in the rapid deployment of French forces in the open phases of Operation Serval, along with other nations like the United States.  The US effort, codenamed Operation Juniper Micron, lasted well into last fall.

What is interesting about the Dutch deployment, which is scheduled to be completed by April, is its focus on improving intelligence capabilities.  MINUSMA has itself established an All Sources Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) in the capital Bamako, to manage the flow of intelligence information to and from peacekeepers.  A need for greater intelligence has been a continuing issue for peacekeepers in Mali.  While international forces provide security in most large population centers and patrol Mali’s limited highway network, militants have continue to operate with a certain impunity outside of those areas, notably in the country’s sprawling and sparsely populated northern regions.  The lack of government presence in these areas has led them to have been referred to as ungoverned or under-governed spaces by the US in the past.

Overview Map - Mali, as of 1 March 2013

Overview Map – Mali, as of 1 March 2013.  This shows that at the time the area of operations for peacekeepers was limited almost entirely to Mali’s sparse road network.

To combat this, the French have recently begun deploying MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles to neighboring Niger, where the US also has a drone operation.  The French deployment is specifically focused on operations in Mali, while it is likely the US operation involved overflights there as well.  The US has been conducting intelligence overflights in the region for some time as part of operations like Creek Wind and Creek Sand.

A Fennek reconnaissance vehicle of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan

A Fennek reconnaissance vehicle of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

In this same vein, the Dutch contribution is centered around contingents from the Korps Commandotroepen (Commando Corps) and the Korps Mariniers (Marine Corps), with the primary mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance type missions.  These special operations forces type units will also look to seize and destroy arms caches and apprehend militants hiding in remote areas.  These units will be equipped with numerous light vehicles to support their mission, including the Fennek reconnaissance vehicle.  Also, the force will include four AH-64D Apache helicopters, again primarily to support reconnaissance efforts, but also capable of conducting show of force and fire support missions.  To help coordinate these efforts with the rest of MINUSMA, the Dutch will provide personnel to the ASIFU in Bamako.  A small contingent of military police to train Malian police and promote rule of law in the country round out the contingent.

An AH-64D Apache helicopter of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

An AH-64D Apache helicopter of the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan.

Since the French intervention and subsequent establishment of MINUSMA last year, a certain calm has returned to Mali.  However, it remains to be seen whether the government and Tuareg rebels can reach an agreement on how to end their dispute.  The Tuareg insurgency is a significant part of the current crisis.  The other significant factor is Islamist militants, said to be linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  The leader of one of these groups, Mokhtar Belmokthar, who’s al-Mulathamun Battalion was recently declared a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US, released a new threat yesterday against the French in North Africa specifically over operations in Mali.  The Tuaregs and the Islamists have their own on-again off-again relationship, further complicating matters.  International forces have primarily focused on controlling Islamist groups rather than the Tuaregs.

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France Says Boko Haram Linked to Mali Militants

Speaking at a conference in Morocco France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that evidence found during operations against militants in Mali indicated that members of Boko Haram had trained with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  Fabius said that this raised significant concerns about interaction between militants in Africa’s Sahel region, where France is currently heavily engaged.  The US has also provided and is likely still providing support to these operations.

French forces conduct operations in Mali, circa July 2013

French forces conducting operations in Mali, circa July 2013, as part of Operation Serval.

The claims by Fabius come as France’s chief of their defense staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, gave a rare interview to Europe 1 radio, in which he announced that those responsible for the killing of two French journalists earlier in the month had been “neutralized.”  Admiral Guillaud did not say whether this mean they had been killed or captured during the operation said to have been conducted against a single pickup truck west of the town of Tessalit in Mali’s restive North.  France has been conducting operations in Mali since January, when it launched Operation Serval.

France has over three thousand personnel currently conducting operations against insurgents in Mali, with a desire to reduce that to between two thousand and twenty-five hundred by the end of the year.  The current French goal is to reduce the force to one thousand individuals by February 2014.  However, this had already been delayed one month and could be delayed more due to concerns about the ability of the UN peacekeeping forces to take over.  Currently, the UN mission in Mali has only half of its mandated strength of over twelve thousand.  In addition, in his interview, Admiral Guillaud suggested that French forces in the region should be allowed to conduct broader operations beyond Mali’s borders.  French public opinion is already divided on the Mali mission and would likely be divided about any potential increase in the scope of active counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel.