The last German soldiers leave Mali.
The new strongman of Mali and president of the Military Junta, Assimi Goïta

The Bundeswehr has ended its deployment in Mali, West Africa, without much fanfare. Two A400M transport plans picked up the last 140 German soldiers from Gao, northern Mali, at midday on Tuesday.

Shortly before, Colonel Heiko Bohnsack, commander of the last contingent, had handed over Camp Castor, built by the Bundeswehr and massively expanded over the years, to the governor of Gao.

The two flights end the Bundeswehr’s last major mission abroad. Germany had been active in Mali for more than ten years. Initially, the Bundeswehr participated in an EU training mission for the Malian army. 

Troops were later deployed to northern Mali on behalf of the UN, with more than 1,000 soldiers stationed there at times. From Camp Castor, the Germans primarily provided reconnaissance imagery from Heron drones, and troops also sent out patrols regularly.

Withdrawal at full speed

However, as of this year at the latest, it has become increasingly clear that the UN is no longer wanted in Mali. Since the end of 2022, the new rulers, all of them military men who have seized power, have instead favored close cooperation with Russia. 

In the summer, Mali officially announced that it no longer wanted the UN and, therefore, no longer wanted the German Armed Forces. The troops then organized their withdrawal at full speed, dissolved Camp Castor and sent the accumulated military material by plane to Germany.

Shortly before the end of the mission, the Bundeswehr repeatedly had to face restrictions that slowed down the withdrawal. First, fuel became scarce in Mali. Then, in early December, the neighboring country of Niger, where the military had also seized power, banned the Germans from transporting equipment through Niamey. The Bundeswehr had established a transfer point for the Mali mission at the capital’s airport. Alternatively, the troops had to use Dakar, Senegal, as a new operations center.

The last soldiers who were collected in Gao were also transferred to Dakar. A roll call ceremony is scheduled at the end of the week in Wunstorf, Lower Saxony. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) will receive the last Malian contingent there. Afterward, the troops – mostly Bavarian mountain troops – will return home on the A400M. The rest of the Bundeswehr team should return to Germany at the beginning of the year.

It is not yet entirely clear what will happen to the much smaller German camp in Niamey. The Bundeswehr would like to continue operating the airport base despite friction with Niger’s coup government. 

The special forces, in particular, are pushing for the operation to continue, as they would like to use the small field camp for possible emergency missions, such as the evacuation of German citizens. However, the mandate for the deployment of German soldiers in Niger only extends until spring 2024, as it was linked to the UN mission in Mali.

Matias Gebauer