Europe will have to stay in Mali for the long haul as military victory alone cannot remove the security threat looming in the EU’s backyard, the bloc’s counter-terror coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said.
“The end of the operation will not be the end of the story,” said the Belgian former senior civil servant and law professor appointed to coordinate EU counter-terrorist activities in 2009.
Urging more aid to be pumped into the West African nation, one of the world’s 25 poorest countries, he said the EU also needed to help restore civilian rule and bolster the rule of law to improve Mali’s chance of a return to peace and security.
“The European Union will play an active role for many years and has the means to face the challenges posed by security and development issues,” he said. “This is something we know how to do.”
Quoting intelligence reports, De Kerchove said only 500 to 1,000 of the about 3,000 Islamist fighters stationed in Mali’s vast arid north were believed to be “active jihadists who are ready to die.”
The others were said to have joined “for the money or due to local problems and frustrations.”
“The belief is that a strong military response will send two-thirds home again,” he said, while acknowledging that the hardcore element “are very well armed.”
The EU was slow to listen to France and Spain, who three to four years ago had warned of the growing security menace in the Sahel region, he said. However, the bloc has now leapt into action, strongly supporting France’s decision to intervene militarily.
“Everyone’s rolled up their sleeves,” he said.
De Kerchove said Mali needed a stronger police force and, along with its neighbors, also needed to create special jurisdictions to investigate, prosecute and try those suspected of terrorism and organized crime.
An EU-backed Sahel security college was set up last year in Niger to train police and magistrates, but Europe needed to involve Mali and Mauritania as well, and improve regional counter-terror efforts by involving neighboring countries such as Senegal and Nigeria, he added.
Amid growing concern over reports of summary executions and rights abuses by the Malian army, De Kerchove said the 250-odd EU officers due to be sent to train the Malian army in the coming weeks would need to focus on human rights and the lawful treatment of prisoners.