The already tense situation in Mali, that has long been a pocket of instability in sub-Saharan Africa, became even more complicated following the August 18 military coup that after seven years removed from power President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, with a military junta taking over.
Events in Mali are monitored especially keenly by France the largest foreign mission of which is the anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane that covers large areas of the Sahel region. The operation was shifted into overdrive by the inclusion of special operations task force Takuba before the coup.
Estonians have an important role to play in the success of both Barkhane and Takuba, and Paris knows this. “The quality of Estonian Defense Forces members makes their participation in the Takuba special ops task force the primary and core element of its success,” said Gen. Francois Lecointre, chief of the defense staff of the French Armed Forces, in a speech delivered in Tallinn last week. The general presented Defense Forces members with decorations for exemplary conduct during the attack on the French military base in Gao on July 22.
Gen. Lecointre says in an interview to Postimees that the realization according to which the key to European security lies in parts of Africa where conflicts rage is becoming more common.
What will Estonians joining the Takuba Task Force lend to the operation and what is its significance for France?
It is very important. Firstly, because Estonians are Operation Barkhane partners and among European participants with the best knowledge of the situation in Mali.
Therefore, creating the Takuba Task Force to completement Operation Barkhane, it is vital for the first partner to join the task force to be an established Barkhane participant.
Estonia and France seem to have developed a special relationship in defense cooperation. Why is that?
I cannot give you an exact reason. I believe Estonia is a partner with a small but highly professional army.
The Estonian Defense Forces is closely tied to NATO but also very much willing to participate in promoting European Union defense and security policy. The convergence of Estonia and France is natural in this light, as both want to serve as trustworthy partners in NATO while developing European defensive capacity capable of protecting the European Union’s interests.
Estonians were among the first allies to join Operation Barkhane. How much enthusiasm can we see today in terms of involving new partners?
There is enthusiasm. I cannot speak for countries that have not yet officially decided to participate in Operation Barkhane, but the fact Estonians have joined us serves as good motivation for other European partners.
You know that the Danes are already with us, as are the Brits. The Swedes and Italians are considering joining. And we have very strong support from the Americans.
I believe that in addition to military capacity, we have a collective and growing realization that the key to European security lies in the southern part of the Mediterranean and Africa.
Talking about the complicated situation in Mali and the recent coup, what will it change for the region, for Mali and for the troops who serve there?
The fact remains that the international community cannot accept an illegitimate and undemocratic regime in Mali. That is why it will introduce sanctions and put pressure on the ruling military junta to implement a transitional regime and return power to political civilian authorities as soon as possible.
But solving the political problem will not solve the military problem. The threat posed by terrorist groups in the border regions of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso remains.
Therefore, we need to put pressure on Mali’s military government while keeping up the anti-terrorist effort in the region. Military operations will continue together with partners.
French troops have served in Mali (operations Serval and Barkhane) for quite a long time – seven years. To what extent can we consider these efforts successful and what do you consider the greatest achievements from that period?
These operations always take a long time. Their success depends partly on military activity, while it mainly depends on finding a political solution.
The military creates conditions for political agreements to be made and the government and agencies to be able operate everywhere in the country with as little violence as possible.
I find that especially since the Pau Summit (meeting of the heads of state of France, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania in January – M. K.), we have achieved real gains in our fight against terrorist groups in regions in three countries (Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali) that were previously fully under the terrorists’ control.