Czech army to join France-led mission in Sahel

Czech troops in Mali, photo: Jakub Šimíček, Jan Kalous / Czech Army

Czech foreign troops continue to be deployed in Mali as part of the European Union mission in the West African state. The Czech contingent is mainly involved in field training and is also in charge of guarding the two main Allied bases. In addition to that, the Czech army also plans to send 60 troops to the France-led mission in the Sahel.

The Czech Republic currently has around 120 soldiers in the West African country, where it has served in the EU mission since 2013. For the past six months, from June 2019 until last Tuesday, the Czech army operated under the leadership of Brigadier General František Ridzák.

Training of the Malian soldiers,  photo: Gerrit Hohmann,  Jakub Šimíček / Czech Army

It was the first time that a military mission on African soil was commanded by an officer from a Central European country, showing Prague’s significant commitment in the area.

Among other things, Czech soldiers are taking part in guarding the European Union Mission Headquarters in Mali’s capital of Bamako, located in one of the city’s hotels.

During their seven-year presence in the country, they had to intervene just once, in the spring of 2016, when three armed Islamists attacked the base. Since then, the headquarters’ protection was then substantially strengthened, one of the Czech warrant officers told Czech Television:

“We are using anti-grenade nets, which we managed to complete during the Czech command and we have also been expanding the camera system around the base.”

The Czech presence in Mali is soon to be reinforced by around 60 troops, who are due to join the Franco-Estonian elite unit, called Task Force Takuba, in northern Mali.

The Czech Republic in September deployed its own special envoy for the region in Mali, Tomáš Uličný, who spoke to the French section of Radio Prague International:

“For us, it is clear that stability and security in the Sahel region is very much linked to the security of Europe and the Czech Republic. Instability in this region can impact the stability of Europe. We would like to help stabilize the situation in this region. "

Tomáš Uličný,  photo: archive of Delegation of the European Union to Sudan

The Czech minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, was due to visit Mali in mid-December, but due to the pandemic, the visit had to be postponed.

Just like the rest of the world, soldiers in Mali are currently also facing the threat of coronavirus infection, with dozens of European soldiers on the operation having already fallen ill.

Spanish Brigadier General Fernando Gracia Herreiz has taken over the command of the mission from Czech army:

"We are limiting contacts, maintaining distance and at the same time, we carry out testing and take preventive measures to control any possible infection among our people.”

The EU training mission in Mali will remain in the West African state at least until May 2024. It will be then be decided whether it will be extended or terminated according to the level of training of the local army.