Ireland will continue on controversial Mali mission but with reduced troop commitment

EU leaders seek to push back on increasing Russian influence in the region

Irish troops will take part in an updated training mission in Mali next year as part of EU efforts to push back on Russian influence in the region.

Ireland has been involved in EU Training Mission (EUTM) Mali since it began in 2013, with Defence Forces personnel training members of the Malian military to help them stabilise the country and secure areas controlled by Islamic militants.

However, the mission has been dogged by controversy in recent months following allegations that troops of the Malian Army, some of them trained by EU forces, were involved in human rights abuses alongside Wagner, a Russia private military company with close linked to the Kremlin.

This includes an incident in the village of Moura last March during which over 200 civilians were allegedly massacred by Malian soldiers and Wagner mercenaries.


Shortly afterwards the EU suspended operational training of Malian Army and National Guard units “in order to prevent any reputational risk due to Malian defence and security forces trained by the EU falling under the control or engaging along with Russia-affiliated forces,” Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said.

The move prompted Ireland to reduce its commitment to 14 Defence Forces troops. Other EU countries, including Germany and the Czech Republic, have recently announced they are pulling out of EUTM Mali completely.

Irish troops are mandated to serve in the country until March 2023. After that, Ireland will continue to supply personnel to an updated version of the mission.

The overall size of EUTM Mali will decrease from 1,100 to 300. The Irish Times understands at least seven Defence Forces officers and noncommissioned officers will take part in this new phase starting in 2023.

The mission will no longer be involved in providing direct military training to Malian soldiers. Instead EU forces will focus on providing mentorship and security advice to Malian commanders.

EU leaders have expressed concern about increasing Russian influence in the restive Sahel region of Africa and the activity of Wagner there. The organisation, which has also been used in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is subject to EU sanctions due to human rights abuses by its personnel. It is believed to operate in 23 African countries.

“The Sahel remains a priority. We’re not giving up on the Sahel, far from it. We want to commit even more to that region,” EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrel said this month.

“The EU has taken a very firm decision that we need to maintain position on the ground,” Ireland’s military representative to the EU, Brigadier General Gerard Buckley, told The Irish Times last month.

The mission may not be doing as much as the EU would like to do but “if you quit the field, a third party will enter that field”, the general said. “Ireland will maintain a presence, but a reduced presence,” he said.

A Department of Defence spokeswoman said no final decision has been taken about the extent of future Defence Forces participation but that “Ireland remains committed to the mission”. She said “the planning assumption is that the next rotation will see a further reduction from our current commitment of 14 personnel”.

Ireland ended its involvement with the separate United Nations Minusma mission in the north of the country in September.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times