Task Force Takuba Key Judgements
KJ-1. TFT is unlikely to achieve full autonomy of Malian Special Forces within a 12-18 month period. Cooperation and guidance under European SOF is likely to remain due to low recruitment capability by Malian forces.
KJ-2. The COIN nature of TFT will likely reduce combat and cyber capabilities in the following 18 months, particularly of the Macina Liberation Front (MLF). A drop in online propaganda and combat capability, combined with the increased targeting of civilians is an opportunity for TFT along with Malian forces to increase legitimacy and local support.
KJ-3. TFT forces are likely under the threat of being pivoted against local population by terrorist organisations. While civilian targeting will likely not increase local support for militants, it has the capability of blurring the line between legitimate and civilian targets. This is a likely opportunity to reduce the legitimacy and effectiveness of the presence and actions of TFT.
KJ-4. Added SOF capabilities is a likely incentive to place foreign forces and domestic population under a potential target objective in attacks. If cyber-capabilities remain un-reduced, it is likely that a change in narrative through online radicalisation will push to target foreigners both in the Sahel and in Europe.
KJ-5. Speed is a likely crucial driver the beneficial impact of TFT to the overall security environment in the Sahel. Results need to be achieved both for Sahel communities to recognise foreign forces as an asset and not a driver for de-stabilisation. If this is not achieved, it is likely that social-support and recruitment will increase for militant organisations.
Task force Takuba Context
Task Force Takuba is an operation carried out by France with the support of Estonia, Czech Republic and Sweden. The objective is to send regiments of Special Operation Forces (SOF) to carry out Counter Insurgency (COIN) missions along with selected Malian forces of Light Reconnaisance and Intervention Units (ULRI). Providing training and monitoring through operations, the objective is to add SOF capabilities to Malian Armed Forces and contribute to their autonomy within the conflict in the Sahel. The 4th ULRI is attached to the Franco-Estonian group in Gao, while the 2nd ULRI is attached to the Franco-Czech and Franco-Swedish contingent in Menaka. Italy and Greece will contribute with MEDEVAC air-lift capabilities, while Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark will send officers to monitor the task force. The overall operation is divided between depth and type of contribution, although French forces with the existing Operation Barkhane in the Sahel will be representing a small majority of personnel within the task force.
Task Force Takuba Background
A coup led by the senior military officers in August 2020 ousted president XXX out of office following demonstrations over corruption, lack of opportunities, militant violence and covid-counter measures. The combination of drivers makes it unlikely that any political solution appointed will achieve any popular support in the short-term considering the complexity of the protesting issues rather than a singular problem within the nation.
A MINUSMA led investigation attributed 101 executions to Malian Armed Forces. Political violence, carried out also through Niger and Burkina Faso’s surrounds the tri-border, particularly around the Malian-Burkinabe border. Considering the military and law-enforcement nature of the abuses, it is likely that the military majority in the transition government has created friction amongst communities in accepting the government. Particularly in the Gao and Mopti regions in Mali, where governmental violence is recorded in its majority. The state of insecurity has likely reduced the effective weight of civilian politicians and diplomacy in comparison to the influence of militaristic policies in the country.
Ethnic and social divisions have almost certainly risen. Fulani and Dogon communities have likely been pivoted against each other my armed militant organisations, and the continuation of attacks and violence highly likely fuels a social polarisation which benefits terrorist armed groups.
Recent attacks by ISGS in Tchoma Bangou and Derma Zare in Niger have left 105 civilians dead. Fulani and Zarma farmer conflicts in western Niger and the conflict between Bambara-Dogon ethnic groups against Fulani communities has likely aided the stigmatisation of Fulani ethnic groups along the Burkinabe-Malian border. The rise in ethnic divisions led to a rise in vigilante groups and violent reprisals which have likely escalated exponentially and fed recruitment into armed non-state actors. The nature of a social division further from a conflict against non-state actors has likely deterred and increased activity of JNIM and ISGS despite efforts by the Barkhane Operation.
Armed groups like JNIM has demonstrated to have an influence on local population, particularly around the Gao and Kinda regions. Protests against western presence in the Sahel were promoted by JNIM through Al-Zalaqah, its online media agency. Despite precise influence being difficult to determine, the ethnic conflicts and protests against western presence indicate a highly likely chance of JNIM as a body having social legitimacy within the country more than being sporadic local support driven by ethnic conflicts. The rise in civilian casualties in 2020 is a likely indicator of the success seen by armed groups in expanding the scope of the conflict from being a purely counter-insurgency one.
Non-state actors have almost certainly managed to adapt to international and regional efforts in deterring recruitment and violence. While ISGS was targeted and capabilities reduced, recent attacks in Niger against civilians indicate an inability of Barkhane to successfully target drivers of non-state actors rather than militant themselves. Despite a current increase in activity of JNIM over ISGS, both organisations are currently capable of operating and carrying out attacks using Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and rockets, targeting both civilians and armed forces to increase instability and blur the line between legitimate and illegitimate targets.
Branches of JNIM, Ansar Dine in Northern Mali and the MLF in the Mali-Burkina-Niger border, highly likely represent different approaches to armed insurgency. 75% of civilians targeted by JNIM were targeted by the MLF rather than Ansar Dine, who commanded the negotiations and successful release of 200 prisoners in exchange for 4 hostages. JNIM is considered a solid group against ISGS and this has likely contributed to the perception that armed insurgents both integrate locally and target civilians simultaneously.
International representation in the conflict in the Sahel has almost exclusively fallen to UN’s MINUSMA or EUTM-Mali. Operation Barkhane, in support of the G5 coalition of Sub-Saharan countries, is an outlier which has almost certainly highlighted a deeper commitment by France within the region apart from other states. While resources have been shared, it is likely that international support by France is seen as distinct to other foreign interventions, considering French interest in Gold and Uranium mines in Burkina Faso. The domestic narrative within France and parts of the international community regarding colonialist-like interventions has likely deterred any added French support to the Sahel unless international partners participate and legitimate the intervention.
Security implications have risen due to the rise in Salafist Jihadist organisations in the Sahel belonging to either Al-Qaeda (AQ) or the Islamic State (IS). The border-externalisation policies of the EU are likely threatened due to the expansion of the conflict to Niger and the priority given to the targeting of foreign forces. A rise in the flow of refugees has likely driven a stream of immigration towards Northern Africa and Southern Europe, an opportunity to be exploited by armed actors should they decide to target objectives closer-to, or directly within European soil.
Task Force Takuba Impact
With the renewed transition government, TFT has the opportunity to reduce the colonialist arguments pivoted against France and simultaneously legitimise the domestic political governance in lights of the Malian community. Ethnic tensions and failed Counter-Insurgency (COIN) during the previous years of Operation Barkhane make it highly likely that time-constraint and speed are drivers of the potential political success of Task Force Takuba. Considering the deployment in July and the first mission carried out in November, TFT has the capability to achieve short-term success in integrating Malian Special Forces within common operations and increase their autonomy, providing the transition government with legitimacy across the population.
It is highly likely that the most significant impact created by TFT will be in the security realm. Training will likely be the most significant asset towards long-term autonomy within Malian Armed forces, considering the COIN nature of TFT and the simultaneous training and cooperation between European and Malian SOF’s which previously did not exist. While training provides a change in capabilities in the short term, it is unlikely that TFT will be able to significantly lower armed non-state actor’s capabilities enough to deter activity, recruitment and number of attacks. On the other hand, it is likely that training and Malian involvement with specialised European units is likely to be exploited to project an increased feeling of security amongst communities, particularly around the Malian-Burkinabe border.
The overall capability of the armed forces likely remains unchanged in the longer-term considering the 19,000 recruitment size. Nevertheless, the TF training and deploying specialised units provides state armed forces the capability to deal with insurgent actors and decrease dependence on international support. The recruitment size and capabilities of TFT imply that COIN capabilities within local forces will likely become increasingly autonomous within a 12-18 month timeframe. Still, cooperation is likely expected to occur for longer considering the need to increase recruitment in order to achieve full autonomy.
TFT is a likely consequence of French pressure for European states to increase presence in the Sahel considering the migratory, security and humanitarian consequences it equally creates. Nevertheless, the creation of a non-NATO, non-EU, non-UN related operation projects a pragmatic image to the idea which European countries have about security and defence. Equalling state commitment in the same task force even in France maintains a superiority in numbers, forces states to highly likely consider the conflict in the Sahel a medium-term one rather than a supportive short-term role. The share of responsibility is broadened and it is likely that states will increasingly be incentivised to add capabilities to the tackle obstacles which emerge throughout the conflict.
The increase in capabilities and a SOF international role is a likely attractor towards an increase towards targeting foreign states intervening than local forces or the population. The deterrent of added capabilities or interventions has occurred, decreasing the potential cost of JNIM or ISGS targeting international forces both in the Sahel and abroad within Europe. In particular, TFT will highly likely become a priority target for two reasons. First, to pressure domestic audiences in Europe towards the retreat of forces demonstrating a lack of progress and two, as a direct confrontation to diminish the effectivity of the task force and overall its contribution to the mission. While attacks in Europe are less likely than in the Sahel, maintaining cyber capabilities to promote radicalisation is an opportunity for armed actors to increase the targeting of European communities which might be prone to carrying out individual attacks.
TFT will highly likely see its most diminished impact within the social sphere considering the socio-economic and security issues which drive instability and the lack of capability by the TFT to tackle these issues. A COIN nature provides advantages in targeting militants, providing a sense of security and disrupting supply chains but will highly likely be unable to effectively target social drivers causing confrontations. There is a realistic probability that militants will attempt to place TFT under the apparent cause for a lack of opportunity, considering that TFT arrives as a support task force to the Barkhane operation.
Image: Philippe Top-Action / Twitter (link)