9 November 2020

Searching for synergies in conflict-torn Mali

Several international military missions are currently in Mali, seeking to improve the country’s severely deteriorating security situation. These multinational missions have different mandates, resources, and cultures. FOI has studied the prospects for creating synergies between the various engagements.

Two military vehicles with soldiers on a mission in Mali.

A Swedish rifle company with the Swedish version of OMC RG32 during a patrol in Mali. Photo: Oscar Larsson/Swedish Armed Forces.

In 2012, the Tuareg guerrilla group, MNLA (the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), declared independence in northern Mali. This led to a series of conflicts that persist today, involving numerous actors, interests and conflict levels. The situation has become even more complicated since the coup d’état in August this year.

Mali’s government has invited a number of external actors to operate within the country’s territory.

Today there are four large military missions in the country (also see Facts: Missions in Mali):

  • the UN’s MINUSMA;
  • EU’s EUTM;
  • France’s Barkhane;
  • the regional joint force, FC-G5S.

The formation of a fifth mission, Takuba, is underway. This is a French-led coalition of European special forces that will be part of Barkhane and support the operations of Malian forces.

Between 20,000-30,000, foreign troops are involved in the missions, in addition to a number of support functions. In Synergies Between Military Missions in Mali, a report by FOI researchers Elin Hellquist and Tua Sandman, the authors use various means, including interviews of Swedish participants in MINUSMA and EUTM, to study how synergies can be seen emerging between the groups.

“With the aim that one plus one will be at least a little more than two,” says Elin Hellquist.

Difficult to institutionalise

The researchers state that the missions in Mali have numerous challenges. There are considerable risks, the terrain as well as the climate are difficult to handle and the situation is so unstable that the assignments of the missions change over time. All of this makes it almost impossible to conduct institutionalised cooperation.

Instead, synergies have to be grasped whenever opportunities arise.

“Points of contact most often arise spontaneously, when something is needed in a specific place, if a group needs help. It can involve sharing information, helping with transportation, or offering protection or medical assistance,” says Elin Hellquist.

It is important for cooperation that all organisations have a clear, well-defined mandate.

“The division of labour between the missions is what sets the contours and boundaries for what contacts are possible. The focus is on one’s own mission, and then one helps with for example logistics or protection as needed,” says Elin Hellquist.

The FOI researchers note that solutions adapted to specific situations are often facilitated through personal relations. But in international military missions this is an unending challenge.

“In Mali, as in most assignments, military personnel are usually only stationed for six months. Then they are replaced.”

Swede to Swede

This is why personal acquaintanceship can sometimes be facilitated by other ties.

“Nationality can also be a way to do this: in other words, a Swede in one organisation contacts a Swede in another,” says Elin Hellquist.

The report may be helpful for Swedish troops when the Swedish Armed Forces receives new tasks within MINUSMA. The Swedish intelligence unit in Timbuktu has been replaced by a Swedish rifle company that is part of a mobile task force in the German camp in Gao. Swedish special forces will also participate in Takuba. That the Armed Forces receives new assignments in Mali can also be useful for Sweden’s national defence.

“Since the missions are developing in a direction where Armed Forces personnel may be gaining experience that exercises at home cannot come close to replicating,” says Elin Hellquist.

The report has been submitted to the Swedish Armed Forces.

Sweden has participated in the international missions since 2013.

  • In MINUSMA, Sweden is contributing a rifle company to a mobile task force that operates from Germany’s camp in Gao, in eastern Mali. Sweden’s contribution in October was 145 Swedes. The Armed Forces can deploy up to 470 soldiers to MINUSMA.
  • EUTM trains Mali’s national forces, although this has been paused since the coup in August. The Swedish Armed Forces can deploy up to 15 instructors and staff officers to EUTM’s operations.
  • Takuba. A French-led mission currently under formation. Will be supported by Sweden, likely from the turn of the new year, with up to 150 military personnel.

*Information: Unless otherwise noted, the figures are based on facts from the turn of the year, 2019-2020.


Led by: UN.
Total military personnel: 13,289.
Swedish personnel: max 470 (145 in October 2020).
Geographic scope: all of Mali.
Headquarters: Bamako.
Mandate: ensure that the peace agreement is respected; support the re-establishment of state authority in central Mali; protect civilians.
Activities: patrolling, security operations, minesweeping, training Malian security forces, disarming and reintegration of ex-combatants.
Budget: 11.7 billion SEK.


Led by: EU.
Total military personnel: 7,000.
Swedish personnel: max 15, usually 7-8.
Geographic scope: southern Mali.
Headquarters: Bamako.
Mandate: capacity-building of the Malian armed forces and the FC-G5S regional forces.
Activities: training Malian and regional forces; advising Mali’s defence command. (Activities have been paused since the coup d’état in August. EUTM has also been hit by the coronavirus).
Budget: 1.4 billion SEK for 2020-24 (350 million per year)


Led by: France.
Total military personnel: 5,100.
Geographic scope: Sahel region.
Headquarters: N’Djamena (Chad).
Mandate: counterterrorism force, supporting MINUSMA in the event of emergency.
Activities: operations against terrorist groups, training regional forces; development projects and medical aid for the population.
Budget: 6.3 billion SEK.


Led by: neighbouring countries, supported by UN.
Total military personnel: 5,000.
Geographic scope: Mali’s border areas with Mauretania, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Headquarters: Bamako.
Mandate: counterterrorism, fighting transnational crime and human trafficking.
Activities: military operations against terrorism, supporting humanitarian activities and criminal investigations.
Budget: the aim is 4.4 billion SEK (dependent on external financing, among others from EU).