EUTM Mali’s broad goal is “to contribute to the training of the Malian Armed Forces“. In 2012, Mali’s armed forces were unable to deal with insurgent Tuaregs and Islamists due to a combination of bad leadership, inept tactics and insufficient material. Whole units either fled or were massacred. As a result, younger officers became frustrated and revolted against the military brass and the government. The chain of command broke up and the army imploded. Only a military intervention by France (Operation Serval) prevented the Islamists from breaking into the capital Bamako. In the summer of 2013, a new government was elected. A rather unstable peace process with the Tuareg rebels is now underway. The state’s lack of monopoly on the use of force means that more and more self-defense militias are emerging across the country, and the fight against jihadists is uspcaling from North to Middle Mali. In this unsecure environment FAMA is once again trying to gain a foothold in the country.
Mali’s military reform plan
The scheme is therefore ambitious. Mali’s government implemented a special law for the FAMA’s buildup in 2015. It aims to double the size of the regular army from 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers by 2019. By then, the army should have a proper command structure and be capable of fighting its enemies by itself. The buildup plan also envisions an 850-man strong bataillon for peace operations. The whole is accompanied by an extensive procurement plan. Key investments include $326 million for combat vehicles, $163 million for refitting the equipment of maintenance and logistic units and $60 million for a squadron (6 planes) of A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes as well as the training of its pilots by the Brazilian A-29 manufacturer Embraer.
The FAMA shows better standing in fights
FAMA is still far from its high expectation of being able to independently lead the asymmetric war against jihadists and insurgents in its own country. The goals for 2019 are therefore unrealistic. Nevertheless, according to European military officers and experts, there are small advances at the tactical level. As stated by Italian EUTM instructors for close air support (CAS), Malian special forces conducted their first standalone CAS operation against Jihadists in the North with a Mil Mi-24D helicopter.
Lieutnant-Colonel Thomas Gottsche, the commander of the previous EUTM Bundeswehr contingent remarked that a paratroop platoon, which was in EUTM training before, did a good job during a combat deployment in North Mali: “One could see that the individual shooters do good cover work and the group leaders lead their men well.” According to Laurent Touchard, an expert on African armies, since 2015 the FAMA units show a better standing in combat, for example in preventing a night attack on the city of Boni.
EUTM training concept
The EUTM tactical training concept works as follows: On the one hand, the EUTM provides specialized knowledge, like sniper training, in its central training camp at Koulikoro near the capital Bamako. On the other hand, trainers from various EU armies travel to the locations of FAMA’s main military formations — which consist of eight battalions of about 600 men each — to train officers, NCOs and soldiers for a two-week period. Then the Malian officers and NCOs train their soldiers themselves, coached by the EUTM instructors. EUTM’s focus is on “train the trainers”.
“The challenge is to make Western leadership principles, such as independent thinking and acting among soldiers, effective in Mali’s army. Here they often have a very rigid pattern, where each step is dictated by the supervisor,” explained Colonel Busch, former Deputy Commander of the EUTM Mali. With its leadership training the EU hopes for a multiplier effect for implementing modern army structures within the FAMA. This tactical approach is supported by the EUTM advisory task force, working with the Malian general staff at the institutional level, for example, by helping to implement a modern EDP system to manage FAMA’s human resources.
EUTM Mali’s shortcomings
Unfortunatelly, the EU concept has its weaknesses. For example, there are no large-scale joint maneuvers under EUTM guidance and support despite of the importance of joint operations for a small force like the FAMA in a country of the size bigger than Central Europe. German soldiers at EUTM also point to the very poor equipment the Malians have as well as lack of ammunition. Material aid from the Europeans does not include weaponry. Even after years of cooperation, the EUTM does not know how the Malian army conducted their training before the EUTM trainers took over. In addition, there is currently no monitoring of the training’s success. The EUTM mandates does not foresee European instructors accompanying EUTM-trained FAMA units in operations. Mali’s armed forces inform their EU partners only at irregular meetings about their combat experiences — based, of course, on their own assessments.
The EUTM strategy and its hurdles
Despite these shortcomings, the EU has no intention to develop the EUTM concept in the direction of combat. The master plan for the fourth mandate is a de-facto attempt to strengthen FAMA’s inner constitution. Permanent European trainers are installed at Mali officers‘ and NCOs‘ schools to develop their leadership training. According to the German MoD courses are under preparation.
Instead of arming Mali’s campaign against asymmetric enemies, the EU is trying to strengthen FAMA’s backbone by funding the renovation of military infrastructure such as airbases. The Germans are planing to push their EUTM resources into the training of logistic specialists, mechanics and lorry drivers.
So far, it is unclear wether the EU strategy will succeed. Since 2013, there have been cases of unrest and rebellion within FAMA units during their EUTM training, such as soldiers ignoring instructions or boycotting graduation ceremonies. This is mainly due to the mistrust of the soldiers against their officers – for example, because of assumed wage deductions. Other issues include EU’s unsuccessful pushing for the development of a clear military doctrine for the “new FAMA”. According to a diplomat in Bamako, the army is divided into supporters and opponents on the crucial question of reintegrating Tuareg deserters from 2012 into FAMA, an important obligation of the peace process. Moreover, not all military circles in Mali consider the increasing European interference in their defense institutions a good idea. “Not everyone in Mali’s forces is excited about it. There are a few officers, who think there is too much EUTM in Mali’s forces. National pride probably plays a role here. Here we still have some convincing to do,” explained Colonel Busch.
Moreover, there is little coordination between the European approach, which focuses on FAMA’s reform, and additional US approaches. “With EUTM providing support at the tactical level, the US deemed that it would be best to apply our security cooperation efforts at the institutional level”, told the US Africa Command (US AFRICOM) to the author. Accordingly, the Americans took only a seleceted class of ten Malian officers under their wing, currently educated at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “These officers, upon graduation, will become core members of a Malian National Security Staff, and they will be instrumental in developing Mali’s future National Security Strategy as well other accompanying doctrinal documents,” US AFRICOM said.
With the intensification of the fight against jihadists and insurgents in Mali and the Sahel, the EUTM mandate will be crucial in determining whether the EUTM’s focus on shaping the FAMA into a modern defensive institution rather than forming an army for the battlefield is a solid strategy.