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An Irish Army Ranger Wing operator in Mali. Irish Defence Forces
Mali

Irish soldiers to stay in war-torn Mali for now despite French announcement of troop withdrawal

There are 34 Irish troops in Mali at present.

THE IRISH DEFENCE Forces have no immediate plans to withdraw troops from war-torn Mali following the announcement by France that it will bring its troops home. 

A Defence Forces spokesperson told The Journal that a decision on any draw-down on Irish presence in the country will be taken by Government. 

Irish military officers will advise ministers on the situation in the country following the announcement of a French withdrawal. Other nations are also expected to leave following a major deterioration in relations with the Malian Government. 

Mali, along with Burkina Faso and Niger in the Sahel Region of Africa, is scene to a major Islamic insurgency in recent years. 

Ireland has 34 troops in Mali involved in two missions – an EU training mission dubbed EUTM  and Minusma a UN peace keeping mission. 

The EUTM mission has 20 Irish personnel involved in training local Malian troops, who then go on to fight in battles in the north of the country. 

Image from iOS Irish troops training Malian soldiers. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

The Minusma operation involves 14 Army Ranger Wing Special Forces soldiers, who are working alongside German forces in reconnaissance missions. 

Ireland first deployed troops to the region in February 2013, while the Rangers began their deployments in September 2019.

France

France, which is the lead country in the operations in the area, announced this week that it was pulling all its military forces out of the country. 

Along with 5,000 troops, the French military provide air transport and logistical support to other military forces in the area. 

French President Emmanuel Macron pulled out his country’s forces in protest at the behaviour of the Malian Junta, who have aligned with Russia.

The Malian military leadership took over the country following a coup in 2020. 

France’s dispute with Mali’s junta is over delayed elections after the coup, as well as its alleged hiring of paramilitaries from Russian private-security firm Wagner.

The shadowy organisation has long been suspected to be the Kremlin’s paramilitary arm, and its members have been accused of abuses in the Central African Republic.

Hundreds of Wagner fighters are allegedly present in Mali, according to the US and others.

However Mali’s junta has denied the claim and says it maintains relations with the Russian government alone. 

In recent days Germany, which works with the Irish ARW detachment, said they could pull out also. 

A spokesperson for the Irish Defence Forces said their troops were continuing to carry out their missions in Mali. 

“Any decision to withdraw soldiers from either mission is solely a matter for Government.

“In the EUTM MALI mission – there are currently 20 Irish personnel serving and they are based in two locations, Bamako and Koulikoro.

“In the MINUSMA mission – there are currently 14 Irish personnel serving and they are based in two locations, Bamako and Gao.

“The Army Ranger Wing (ARW) currently contributes a field human intelligence team to MINUSMA as part of the German Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Task Force.

“The ARW first deployed to MINUSMA in September 2019 for a period of two years. This was subsequently extended by one year, after which their contribution to the mission will end. This is entirely unrelated to the French decision to withdraw from Mali,” a spokesperson said.  

‘Scoping exercise’

Irish security sources said that the Irish army were examining the possibility of placing a conventional group of troops in Mali when the ARW pull out in September 2022.

Sources said this was a “scoping exercise” and involved looking at various possibilities for UN-backed missions for Irish troops.

It is understood that any deployment of troops to Mali could involve withdrawing troops from other missions – it would also require an agreement under the so-called Triple Lock system.

The system means that military action outside of the State must first be prompted by a formal Government decision, then approved by the Dáil. The mission must also be mandated by the UN.

“The Irish Army are always scoping out possible missions and that is really all it is – nothing decided or confirmed as yet but it was being looked at,” a source explained. 

It would not be the first mission by the Defence Forces to Africa, which began its UN Missions in Congo and then later in Chad and Eritrea. 

Sources have said that Irish troops have reported a serious deterioration in the security situation in Mali in recent months.

Image from iOS (1) An Army Ranger Wing operator on patrol in Mali. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

Cathal Berry TD, a former Defence Forces officer in the Army Ranger Wing, served on the Chad mission.

He is now a member of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Oireachtas.

“There is a lot of change in the area as the Malians shift their allegiance to Russia,” he said.

“The French and others are leaving because of that. Sweden is deciding to leave as well – they are engaged in a trans-Sahelian special operations mission which is even more robust.

“France is the key enabler in the area with a large-scale commitment there. They offer key facilities such as logistics and air transport, especially helicopters for medivac.

“They are essentially the anchor tenant and are now leaving so you would expect to see others withdraw also.”

There is widespread fighting by Islamic groups taking on local forces across, not just Mali, but also in Niger, Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel region.

Various Jihadist groups have formed a broader alliance, the largest of which is the al-Qaeda-aligned GSIM group.

Other groups include Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), as well as Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the southeast, near the Nigerian border.

They have launched attacks across the region with the most recent attack in Niger, where five Nigerian troops were killed by a roadside bomb.

The blast occurred in the Gotheye district of the Tillaberi region, which lies in a flashpoint zone where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge.

Western Niger, declared by the UN as the world’s poorest country, has for years faced jihadist attacks, despite the efforts of international forces deployed to the wider Sahel region to fight the Islamist insurgents.

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