The Danish government announced on Thursday, February 28 that it plans to send troops and equipment to support France’s Operation Barkhane in the Sahel.
The government’s plans, which must be approved by parliament, include sending two transport helicopters and around 70 soldiers to the region for a one-year period starting at the end of 2019.
“It is crucial for Danish and European security that we contribute to the stability of the area. The terrorist groups in the Sahel region threaten our common security,” said Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen in a statement.
“That is why we are stepping up with France to defeat them,” Samuelsen said, adding that it was he hoped the region could be stabilized to “prevent irregular migration towards Europe.”
The security situation in Mali and the entire Sahel region is worrying, and therefore Denmark should increase its involvement,” Defence Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said, adding that “With a helicopter contribution to Operation Barkhane, we deliver a relevant and sought-after contribution.”
Frederiksen also focused on the government’s restrictive migration policy, saying that “it is important that we contribute to the fight against terrorism and prevent the flow of refugees.”
NATO member Denmark contributed to previous operations in Mali, deploying transport aircraft to the French-led Operation Serval in 2013, and personnel and equipment to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, Minusma.
The recent unrest in the Sahel began in Mali in 2012 with Tuareg separatist uprising against the state, which was exploited by Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took key cities in the desert north.
France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the militants from the towns, but the jihadist groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.
The insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali, and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Large swathes of the country remain outside government control, despite a 2015 peace accord designed to isolate the Islamists.
The French mission evolved into the current Operation Barkhane, which has roughly 4,500 French personnel deployed with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the region. Three U.K. Royal Air Force Chinook heavy lift helicopters based in Gao have since August 2018 supported French troops in Mali, and 50 Estonian soldiers are deployed in Gao in a force-protection capacity.
Troops deployed to Barkhane work alongside the U.N. Minusma stabilization mission in Mali, which began in 2013 and has about 12,000 troops and 1,750 police deployed, as well as the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force that aims to train and deploy up to 5,000 personnel.
With reporting from AFP