European troops have begun training Malian forces to help ensure security and stability following a planned French withdrawal in July.
From the start, the mission is unlikely to succeed. The program has too few European trainers and will train a paltry four Malian battalions—roughly 2,600 soldiers—to secure a country twice the size of Texas. The training mission may play well politically in Europe; however, ensuring a stable Mali will require far more resources.
French troops have been in Mali battling Islamic terror organizations and, in some cases, Tuareg separatists (semi-nomadic people in the Sahara region) since January. While French forces have helped retake most of Mali from the insurgents, a suicide bombing and firefight in Timbuktu over the weekend is a stark reminder that keeping the country secure will be a difficult task. When the European Union (EU) Council first announced plans to send 200 European trainers to Mali in December, Heritage’s Luke Coffey compared the EU mission to NATO’s training efforts in Afghanistan:
Every six hours, NATO spends the same amount training the Afghans that the EU will spend all year on training the Malian Army. With only 8 percent of the manpower of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, the EU’s training mission in Mali is not a serious effort—it is a joke.
Outlining the challenges of the operation, the commander of the mission, French Brigadier General Francois Lecointre, summarized the goal of the mission: “Objectively, [the army] must be entirely rebuilt.” The training mission is expected to last 15 months and cost an estimated €12.3 million (about $16 million). Considering the military intervention itself cost France an estimated €2.7 million per day (about $3.5 million), one must wonder if this will be enough.
Additional details of the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM) show that only 150 of the 550 soldiers that the EU will send are actually trainers. To say 150 trainers is an inadequate number for the task of completely rebuilding the Malian army is an obvious understatement.
This feel-good mission is likely to be too little too late. As with most other EU defense initiatives, there is every reason to believe that this too will result in disappointment. Sadly, it is the Malian people who suffer most from the EU’s incompetence.