Stwo again! Silvio K. unscrews the grille of the air conditioner, on which two small, dead birds are hanging. “Who knows how they’ll get in there,” says the warehouse sergeant. He shrugs and starts to change the fan blade. Because of the heat, things ran “twenty-four seven” here. Sun and sand attacked the leaves. K. will not run out of work on the fans at the Niger air transport base for the Bundeswehr anytime soon.
A stone’s throw away from the tent city in which K. folds his toolbox, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and her delegation of members of parliament, the military and journalists walk towards an elongated container building on Friday afternoon. Construction noise can be heard from inside, craftsmen are doing the final work. A civilian contractor built the block with space for up to 180 guests within 14 days. “It’s great that everything is going according to plan for you,” says Lambrecht to a soldier who informs them about the progress of construction.
Niamey is the last stop on Lambrecht’s “Christmas trip” to the German troops in the Sahel who are stationed there as part of the MINUSMA mission in Mali and Niger. By the time they landed in Niger’s capital on Friday, pretty much everything had revolved around the beginning of the end of Germany’s engagement in Mali: the harassment of the Malians and the right timing for the withdrawal. That changed when Lambrecht spoke to the journalists traveling with him after a meeting with Niger’s Defense Minister Alkassoum Intatou and a tour of the German base.
Their message was: After the successful completion of the “Gazelle” training mission, Germany will now also “substantially” participate in the EU partnership mission in Niger, which was decided on last Monday. In addition, they want to build a military hospital with the Nigerien armed forces. The Sahel must not be lost sight of, and further cooperation with Niger is “very, very important”. That’s the sound of the new, significantly lower military obligations that Germany now wants to enter into for years to come.
Niger is not Mali. It’s no secret that the minister wants to put the stabilization mission in the crisis-ridden neighboring country behind her as quickly as possible. The fact that she can’t do it yet is mainly due to Minister Annalena Baerbock’s (Greens) Foreign Office. There is a classic conflict of interest between the departments. The foreign office argues with interests in the region. Germany cannot afford to lose face again with a hasty withdrawal like in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defense, on the other hand, is holding out with the increasing harassment of the Malians after the (also rapid) withdrawal of the French and the deteriorating security situation. The compromise date for the withdrawal, which both sides found at the end of November, is May 2024, shortly after the Malian presidential elections.
But the conflict evidently continues to smolder. As early as Thursday, Lambrecht made the German troops’ whereabouts until the agreed date subject to conditions. When she gets out of the car at the seat of the Malian defense minister. While Sadio Camara in a white tunic with Lambrecht walks through the formation of honor to the sometimes shrill sounds of a military band, hooded special forces on pick-ups secure the site. In the minister’s official villa, Lambrecht made her demands for the German MINUSMA forces to remain in place until 2024 clear: No more postponement of the elections and no further hindrances to the German MINUSMA forces – otherwise Germans could withdraw earlier and faster.
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