French troops bound for Mali
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Belgium sends 250 soldiers to the “Afghanistan of Africa”

Belgium is dispatching 250 members of the armed forces to Mali in West Africa. The Belgians will take part in a French-led anti-terrorism operation targeting Al-Qaeda fighters.

The decision to participate in France’s Operation Takuba (Sword) was taken during consultations with the French premier in Brussels on Monday.  The first Belgians will fly out in mid-2022 if the situation in Mali is sufficiently stable.  By the end of the year 250 soldiers should be deployed.

Operation Takuba focuses on the area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet.  VRT’s Jens Franssen understands the Belgians won’t initially be deployed on the front line, but will protect convoys and guard military bases, though it can’t be ruled out they will engage IS and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Belgium already has experience of the terrain. 115 soldiers are deployed in the area taking part in an EU training mission and a UN peace operation.

The mission is not without its dangers and remains controversial.  Mali is seen as a hornet’s nest and is even called the “Afghanistan of Africa”.

Together with other countries of the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa Mali has formed part of an unstable region for decades.  Parts of the area are controlled by militant groups linked to terrorist outfits like IS and Al-Qaeda.

France has deployed 5,000 soldiers in the region, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, since 2013 but that hasn’t been able to stop an increase in violence.  Last year was the deadliest since the start of the campaign.

Despite a lack of success, the French are wary of pulling out as this could result in total anarchy and the area could end up being completely controlled by terrorist outfits.  Global warming has triggered several failed harvests.  The danger is millions of people will be uprooted and attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, which EU governments hope to prevent.

Sweden, Estonia, and the Czech Republic are expected to join the French operation too.

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