BERLIN/PARIS – Berlin turned down Paris’s request for help in Africa’s Sahel region twice in a row, it has been reported, as the security situation in the volatile region keeps worsening. France is currently engaged in an operation in Mali and other countries south of the Sahara Desert, in the region known as Sahel, RT reported.
While France and Germany have repeatedly assured each other of military support should their ‘sovereignty’ come under attack, the case of Sahel appears to cross a line.
“The [German] Defense Ministry has answered with a ‘no’ to a French request for the establishment of a Special Force (Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force/CJSOTF) that was made to some other European nations as well,” Berlin said in a response to a parliamentary inquiry as cited by local media.
A further similar request was also turned down, the defense ministry added. At the same time, the German military admitted that the situation in Sahel does look grim.
“Jihadist groups that are active in the region enjoy significant freedom of movement, and can, therefore, act without any bounds while even enjoying support of the local population,” it said, adding, “Vast, sparsely populated areas with little or no state control bolster criminal and terrorist networks.”
Denial of assistance, however, did not stop defense minister – and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s protégée – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer from once again calling for the strengthening of the “German-French tandem” and increasing of Germany’s engagement abroad to “protect our values and interests”, as she recently put it in a speech at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.
The approach prompted some lawmakers to accuse the head of the military of lacking strategy and vision when it comes to foreign military engagements.
“Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s ‘announcement policy’ is effective in the media but has no consequences,” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, an MP from the Free Democratic Party, told journalists.
Germany’s reluctance to commit more troops to the French African anti-terrorist operation might be understandable. After all, Germany already has hundreds of soldiers in Mali, and reports from the region have not been particularly reassuring for the Bundeswehr.
In previous years, the German troops in Africa complained about “dust and rocky roads” as well as scorching heat that rendered half of the combat vehicles inoperative. In July 2017, the German Air Force saw its Tiger helicopter crash in Mali after it lost its main rotor blades in mid-flight. Both pilots died in the crash.
A report in May also suggested that foreign deployments appear to be taking a heavy toll on the German Army, as many soldiers return from places like Mali or Afghanistan physically or mentally crippled. Hundreds of them have been deemed unfit for further service precisely because of such problems.
The problems of their German allies certainly do not make the situation any easier for the French forces stationed in Mali and beyond. France currently has over 4,500 troops on the ground in Mali helping to fight against multiple jihadist insurgencies across the Sahel region.
The anti-terrorist operations keep taking their toll on the French military, with the latest fatalities reported in late November when two choppers collided in mid-air, leaving 13 French soldiers dead. Earlier, the country lost a high-ranking officer – Brigadier Ronan Pointeau – who was killed in an IED explosion.