The German cabinet has given the green light for German military instructors to begin the training of the Malian army. Germany's armed forces are to provide logistical support, but will not be deployed in combat.
Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have been providing logistical support for French and ECOWAS troops in Mali for some weeks. Three German Transall transport planes have already flown 500 troops to Mali. The German cabinet has now approved this officially and has also given the go-ahead for the mid-air refueling of French warplanes using German tankers, should this be requested by Paris.
Germany is sending 80 military specialists, including engineers, doctors and paramedics.
A maximum of 330 German soldiers would be permitted to take part in these two operations, which have yet to be approved by the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag. A vote is due on Friday (22 February, 2013) and all political parties have signaled their support for the motion with the exception of the Left Party.
Government spokesperson Steffen Seibert outlined the objectives of the German troops who will be part of the European Union's Training Mission in Mali (EUTM). "The goals of EUTM are to help Mali's government regain control of its territory and to reduce the threat to the population, particularly in the north," Seibert said.
Tuesday's decision by the German cabinet came shortly after EU foreign ministers had agreed to begin deploying a military training mission to the West African nation, a plan which had been in development since the beginning of the UN-mandated mission in January.
Tough mission ahead
The European military instructors believe they will have to start pretty much from scratch when they arrive in Mali.
The Malian army is poorly trained and equipped, which is why the European Union has decided to dispatch a military training mission. More than a dozen EU countries will be taking part in this mission which is due to start in the next few weeks.
Andreas Peschke, spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office said Germany and its European partners expect Mali to reciprocate the intervention by adapting the country's military structure. "This would of course include reforming the Malian army and the re-integration of the armed forces in civilian government structures," Peschke said.
By mid-March, the number of EU soldiers in the Malian capital Bamako is expected to reach nearly 150, double the amount currently stationed there. An estimated 200 European military advisors are to begin training four Malian battalions of 640 men each by the start of the following month.
EUTM, which currently has a mandate of 15 months and an upward limit of 500 soldiers, expects to commence its reform of the Malian army within the coming months.
When Islamist insurgents took control of the northern half of the country last year, the Malian army was unable to put up much resistance. The Islamist offensive was finally halted by French troops.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle says Mali's security is crucial for Europe. "We in Europe have a vested interest in ensuring that safe harbors for terrorist activity are simply not allowed to come into existence. That is why we want to help the Africans take responsibility for security in Mali," Germany's top envoy said.
The EU training mission will reportedly focus on human rights and the rule of law in addition to military skills. Malian troops have been accused of human rights abuses as they sought to retake the north from Islamist rebels.