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Mon 30 November 2020
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Martin Jay argues that Boris Johnson could be about to make a terrible mistake by committing troops to fight in Mali on behalf of French national interests

Few people in the UK could find Mali on a map yet this troubled country in north-west Africa is the next destination for British troops who are heading there as part of a United Nations mission to fight terrorism. What the British public is not being told is the risk this 300-strong task-force will likely face and why the UN has requested their help.

Mali is a former French colony and the epicentre of ISIS terrorism in Africa. The French military makes up a significant part of the UN operation but their record in the country is in tatters.

The operation is mired in rape allegations and sexual assault accusations, even against UN itself involving high ranking officials in Africa who are alleged to be forcing women and in some cases children to perform sexual favours for them.

The 5,000 French troops also have an unimpressive record on curtailing terror groups. They have faced questions over how civilians have been caught in the crossfire during offensives and some observers have called the operation a “fiasco”. It has become unclear whether the stated goal of restoring democracy and combating terrorism is in reality a cover for protecting the interests of French multinational corporations and for long-term energy exploration.

This raises serious questions about why British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be willing to put British soldiers’ lives at risk.


Failed UN Mission

Almost 100 countries are already contributing to the UN mission in Mali, yet the presence of ISIS and Al Qaeda is continuing to grow. The 700-strong group of extremists have become particularly adept at hitting the UN mission which is made up of a total of 13,000 soldiers.

Security expert Arthur Boutellis was recently quoted by the Financial Times, stating that political opinions about the mission’s success remain “divided”. He explained: “Some still do recognise that if the French force wasn’t there, the whole country would collapse even more . The counter argument is that eight years of French military counter-terrorism have not really improved the situation.”

Britain’s plan to send 300 troops, made up to two British regiments along with support from the RAF with three Chinook helicopters, is highly likely to result causalities. Just one of these regiments is infantry and so they are unlikely to be as well suited to dealing with attacks, particularly when compared to the French who have sent commandos who are better equipped. This lack of combat experience could be the reason for reports that Britain is now considering bolstering its numbers with members of the elite Special Air Service.

But the core issue for UK citizens is why the British Government has committed to putting British lives at risk for what appears to be French geopolitical goals. France has its own objectives and agenda in Mali, ranging from protecting its own national interests to preventing an exodus of refugees arriving at ports in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, during a crunch point in EU withdrawal negotiations around access to fisheries post-Brexit, Macron was reported to have taken a hard line.

Many will argue that Johnson should not be putting British soldiers on the front line of France’s war with terrorists when the French themselves don’t appear to be particularly serious about fighting.


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