The French-led Takuba Task Force, a European military Special Operations task force led by France, has added a Swedish contingent to the group. The task force advises, assists, and accompanies the Malian Armed Forces, in coordination with G5-Sahel partners and other international units on the ground.

Back in June, the Swedish parliament had approved the initial deployment of up to 150 soldiers to the Takuba task force, with up to 100 reinforcements. The mandate expires on December 31, 2021.

The Swedes will be a which is a rapid response special operations unit. The Swedish troops utilize U.S.-made UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for support. 

Sweden also contributes to the UN peacekeeper force, which is comprised of 13,000 troops from several countries. The peacekeeping force has been deployed in Mali since July 2013, when insurgents took much of the country’s northern territory. 

“The first operations have been carried out,” French military spokesman Frederic Barbry, said of the Swedish contingent.

The Swedes will join the European contingent from Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Mali, Niger, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. France currently has 5,100 troops deployed to Mali, Chad, and Niger in support of Operation Barkhane.

The G5-Sahel (Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad) have struggled to fund and train their forces. Simultaneously, Islamic insurgents have taken advantage of the small governmental presence in the Sahel countries’ outlying areas to strengthen their hold. Task Force Takuba is designed to address those issues.

French SOF soldier wearing a Takuba SOF Task Force patch. (French military photo)

The insurgency began in Mali in 2012 with local Taureg rebels rising up against the government. That insurgency was then hijacked by Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup d’état in 2012 over his inability to handle the crisis. The insurgency has since spread to the other Sahel countries.

The French began deploying 4,100 troops to their former colony in 2013. They initially pushed the Taureg rebels and insurgents out to the outlying areas in the northeast of the country. But the insurgents regrouped, rearmed, and have since fought the government forces to a standstill. In response, France led a surge of additional troops in 2020 that brought its total to 5,100. 

But French President Emmanuel Macron recently indicated that he intends on announcing a reduction of French troops, something that Defense Minister Florence Parly had also hinted at

Nevertheless, a French drawdown is not a foregone conclusion. In a piece in Financial Times, Macron said that he may wait a few months to see if the G5-Sahel forces demonstrate that they can handle more of their own security.

“If not, I will, in any case, be forced to pivot our French contingent,” Macron said. “Because if you want to make a useful impact, you have to think that if there are still terrorist groups after seven years, that means they are embedded and your problem is not simply one of security. It’s a political, ethnic, and development problem. So at that point, I will adjust our contingent.”

Macron feels that a solution in the Sahel requires more than a military stabilization and that the G5 must take the reins of their own security. However, if France does indeed withdraw its troops, this would affect the overall force’s logistics and airpower capabilities.