The Swedish government is planning to send helicopters and 150 special forces operators to augment the French-led Special Operations Task Force in the Sahel, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said in a release. In January, SOFREP had reported that the Swedish government was contemplating the option and weighing the pros and cons.
“The government has decided to submit a bill to the Riksdag (parliament) proposing Swedish participation,” the press release said. “The Swedish contribution is planned to consist of a helicopter-borne rapid reaction force of a maximum of 150 personnel.”
“Sweden’s participation promotes security in Mali and the Sahel region,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said, adding “that, in its turn, [this operation] will make it easier to carry out development activities in Mali which are needed to promote sustainable and peaceful development in the country.”
“The decision will also mean we can contribute to the fight against international terrorism and ultimately also make Sweden safer and more secure,” the Minister said.
The proposed bill comes as an answer to France’s call for more European nations to join the fight in the Sahel. It is expected to win majority approval in the Riksdag.
Sweden would be joining the joint French-led Special Operations task force, Task Force Takuba, which will consist of Special Forces operators from several European countries. The operators will train, equip, assist and accompany troops from the G-5 Sahel region (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania) in their ongoing fight against Islamic jihadists from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Operation Takuba will begin gearing up during the summer and is expected to be fully operational by the fall of 2020. Takuba, which in the Tuareg language means “Sabre,” will consist of a 50-100 man French unit and Special Operations elements from numerous European nations including Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Spain Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. Most of these nations already have SOF units deployed in the region conducting Special Reconnaissance (SR), Direct Action (DA), and Foreign Internal Defence (FID) missions. Eventually, the plan is to have 500 operators in the task force.
The French have also beefed up their troop totals to 5,100 in the region, mainly in their former colony of Mali.
In January of this year, French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel group launched a new plan to fight jihadists in the area. They also agreed to an improved Coalition for the Sahel, which should result in increased coordination between French and host-nation forces. Barkhane and G-5 forces operating under a French-led joint command will focus on the tri-border area between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Operation Barkhane, led by France, has also been active in the region since 2014.
Sweden already has 200 military personnel deployed to multinational missions in Mali, including in The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the European Union’s Training Mission.
“The decision concerns a military operation alongside the larger U.N. mission MINUSMA in Mali,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said. “A Special Forces operation is a capability that contributes to the stability of the region and to combating and preventing further spread of terrorism in Europe and Sweden.
The regional violence began in Mali in 2012, where Taureg separatists became part of al-Qaeda. The Islamic State then entered the fray and the insurgency then spread from Mali into Burkina Faso and Niger. The ongoing violence has killed 4,000 civilians in the past year, displaced hundreds of thousands, and significantly impacted the wellbeing of many of the region’s inhabitants. The U.N. Security Council puts the number of civilians requiring assistance, in Mali alone, at over four million.