As a jihadi insurgency spreads across the Sahel, EU countries are responding to France's call for increased troop deployments in the region. A Franco-Estonian elite unit, styled Task Force Takuba, has arrived in northern Mali and is based near the city of Gao. Czech and Swedish forces are due to arrive soon. From media reports, the deployments go beyond the training and support of indigenous military.
The contributing elements are from each country's elite special forces units, and they will also work with the regular French troops deployed since 2013 as part of Operation Barkhane. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Greece have made commitments to send special forces to Mali, as has Italy, whose troops are expected soon. Parliamentary approval for deployment is usually required by each contributing country. The Czech parliament gave its assent to troop deployments in October.
In a likely unrelated development, the United States has upped the billet of the U.S. Army Africa commander—which will merge with U.S. Army Europe—from a two-star to a four-star general. The change reflects the new emphasis that the U.S. Department of Defense is placing on the Sahel.
As the French say, the Sahel is the "near abroad" of Europe and the European Union. The deployment of troops from EU countries in multinational units could be a harbinger of closer EU defense cooperation. An Estonian soldier, part of Task Force Takuba, is quoted in the media as saying that "so far there is no problem of interoperability" with the French military.
Jihadi terrorism and insurrection have deep societal roots in the western Sahel that cannot be addressed by increased use of military force. However, security is deteriorating, and genuine reform—presuming political will for it exists among indigenous elites—requires security. Hence, it is hard to see a way forward that does not rely on increased military activity. Nevertheless, the expanded writ of Task Force Takuba makes it inevitable that there will be casualties. In that eventuality, it remains to be seen whether European and EU resolve will be maintained.