German defense minister signals greater role in Africa

Ursula von der Leyen said she foresaw boosting the training mission in Mali

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Germany’s new defense minister said Sunday her country should engage more strongly in Africa by sending additional military trainers to Mali and supporting the French intervention in Central African Republic.

Ursula von der Leyen said she foresaw boosting the training mission in Mali from its current mandate of 180 personnel, with 99 now on the ground, to up to 250, and deploying a medical services airbus to back up the French mission in CAR.

Asked by news weekly Der Spiegel whether Germany -- often criticized for its post-World War II reluctance to send troops abroad -- should boost its international military engagement, she said “within the framework of our alliances, yes.”

In crisis-hit African countries, Germany “cannot look the other way when murder and rape are a daily occurrence, if only for humanitarian reasons,” said Germany’s first female defense minister, a powerful member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet.

“In Central Africa, a bloody war is unfolding between Christians and Muslims. We cannot allow this conflict to set the entire region ablaze,” she added.

In the long term European national armies should be merged into a European military because “unified armed forces are a logical consequence of an ever-increasing military cooperation in Europe,” said the minister who has been in her post for about one month.

Development Minister Gerd Mueller meanwhile said Germany also planned to expand its aid activities in Africa, especially in Mali, speaking to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The chairman of the German Armed Forces Association, Andre Wuestner, told the same newspaper that the Mali mission would likely take more than a decade, citing the “disastrous” state of the armed forces there and the goal of “a stable and functioning state”.

The West African nation of Mali was hit by a coup in 2012 when its northern half was occupied by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists before being liberated by a French-led military intervention.

French forces also intervened last month in CAR to try to stem violence between mainly Muslim Seleka fighters who had staged the coup last year and militias from the country’s Christian majority.