Several European nations are contributing special operations forces to Task Force Takuba to fight armed groups in the Sahel. The special operations task force will fight in the Liptako region alongside troops from Niger and Mali.
Most of the attacks in the Sahel are by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen (JNIM) – a group that formed up in 2017 from several smaller groups. The Sahel region of Africa has been in turmoil for several years and the security situation has been deteriorating. Attacks against government and civilian targets have increased fivefold in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali since 2016.
Establishing Task Force Takuba
The French first began asking for European SOF to participate in early October 2019. The task force is expected to be established in the summer of 2020 and begin conducting some operations in late summer early fall. It appears that the task force will have two missions – one to conduct counterterrorism operations and the other to train local African forces. It is anticipated that Force Force Takuba will be fully operational by early next year. The lead nation for Task Force Tabuka is France. The task force was officially established on March 27, 2020.
Several nations have indicated their support of the SOF task force to include Sweden, Estonia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, and others. Sweden will be contributing up to 150 special forces personnel and some helicopters. Germany, Norway, and the United States have stated that they will not participate in the SOF task force. European SOF – French, Dutch, Danish, and others – have been working in the Sahel region for several years supporting various initiatives.
Map depicts operating areas of AQIM, JNIM, and affiliates (red) and ISIS-Greater Sahara and affiliates.
The mission of the task force is to assist the Malian and Nigerien armed forces in countering terrorist groups and to complement the current efforts made by Operation Barkhane and the G5 Sahel Joint Force. The Takuba task force will be under the command of Operation Barkhane.
There are currently about 4,500 French soldiers in the region as part of Operation Barkhane. This operation was established in 2014. The United Kingdom has Chinook helicopters providing support and Estonia is contributing force protection personnel. Denmark is supporting with EH101 medium-lift helicopters as well. The Barkhane force is focused on insurgent activity in the countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. France is in the process of sending an additional 600 troops to the Sahel region bringing Operation Barkhane’s troop count to 5,100. Operation Serval was the forerunner to Operation Barkhane.
The United Nations has a 15,000 man peacekeeping force in Mali as well. The U.N. peacekeeping mission – established in 2013 – is known as United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The organization provides operational and logistical support to the G5 Sahel Joint Force. Some of the European nations supporting MINUSMA include France, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany.
G5 Sahel Joint Force
Five African countries, assisted by France, set up the G5 Sahel framework in 2014. In 2017 Chad, Mali, Niger, Maruitania, and Burkina Faso established a joint force (Joint Force FC-G5S) to meet the threats from insurgents and terrorists. The region faces a number of challenges – terrorism, organized crime, and demographic growth. Climate change has degraded the ability of some of the population to make a living from agriculture or livestock – exasperating the economic well being of the regions’ citizens. It is planned that once fully operational the G5 Sahel force will have 5,000 soldiers in seven battalions that will be based across three zones: West, Center, and East.
U.S. Reducing Presence?
Africa Command and the U.S. Department of Defense are currently conducting a review of U.S. troop commitments in Africa – to include the Sahel region. The new National Defense Strategy (NDS) has DoD focused on the great power competition posed by China and Russia. The U.S. military is attempting to reduce its commitments to the counterterrorism campaign in Africa. France relies heavily on U.S. logistics, air support (transport), and intelligence for its West Africa mission. France’s efforts in the Sahel would be hurt by a reduction of U.S. support. A number of U.S. SOF units have been deployed over the years to Africa – complementing the efforts of the 3rd Special Forces Group in Africa.
Goals of Task Force Tukuba
If the efforts of Operation Barkane, MINUSMA, Task Force Tukbua, and the G5 Sahel Force are successful, the host nation military units will take over full responsibility for the conduct of the security mission and degrade the insurgent and terrorist capabilities. This will allow the departure of the military forces of the European nations from West Africa. Ideally, Task Force Tukuba will be successful in establishing host nation special operations units that can take over the counterterrorism mission. However, all indications are that the European nations are in for a long effort in helping the G5 Sahel nations stabilize the region and restoring security.
The West-Africa Special Operations Forces: Development and Integration in the Context of the Sub-Suharan Growing Threats, CGSC, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: 2016.
Learning from U.S. Counterterrorism Experience in the Sahel: A Springboard for the Sahel G5 Organization, Naval Post-graduate School, Monterey, CA: 2018.
USSOF Operations in Africa: Prospects for Future Engagements in the Sahel, Air War College, Maxwell AFB: 2017.
“Army Special Operations in Africa”, Special Warfare, USAJFKSWCS, January – March 2017.
“Crisis in the Sahel Becoming France’s Forever War”, New York Times, by Ruth Maclean, March 29, 2020.
Top Map: Used under Creative Commons, Wikemedia.org. Map by Munion / CC BY-SA.
Map of Sahel states from CRS report TE10044, December 2019.