The Spanish leader will meet Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga in Bamako to discuss security.
Accompanied by senior Spanish military personnel, Sanchez will then travel by helicopter to the nearby European Union Training Mission (EUTM) base in Koulikouri, sixty kilometres from the capital – where 255 Spanish soldiers are deployed. Spain, along with Germany, is the largest personnel contributor to the mission, which until recently was also led by a Spanish commander, reports El Pais.
The military campaign sees forces from across the EU offer “training and support” to local security forces. The EU Council-sponsored intervention was originally intended to stop advancing Islamic forces from the north of Mali and from marching on the capital Bamako in 2013.
EUTM forces followed by Central African Armed Forces (FACA) on a training deployment in February 2018. Photo: Florent Vergnes/AFP.
As of February 2019, the EU's mission in Mali will have lasted six years. According to a October 2018 update by EUTM in Mali, nearly 13,000 Malian armed forces personnel were enrolled in some kind of training with the programme.
Une formatrice de l’EUTM Mali a dispensé une formation sur les premièrs secours aux stagiaires du cours des opérateurs de radio maliens. Elle était assistée par un formateur estonien. pic.twitter.com/VN0SYDQGLO
— eutmmali (@eutmmali1) December 9, 2018
Strengthening state and local military capacity in the Sahel region is a priority for EU leaders in their strategy to reduce migrant flows to Europe.
The lowly-populated and dense desert area where several states meet in west Africa is seen as a key focus region for EUTM's training, states a report in Spain's daily El Mundo. Training is geared to combat human trafficking, narcotics smuggling and violence against women. Most of the territory where the mission focus on is desert area where militant Islamic groups have traditionally had a stronghold.
An increase in new migrant arrival numbers in the last year to Spanish shores from the Maghreb and west and central Africa has placed Spain at the forefront of the EU's strategy to tackle migration and linked insecurity in countries of departure – such as Mali, Sierra Leone or Niger.
More than half of the nearly 120,000 sea arrivals to the EU in 2018 landed in Spain, according to UN data.
The EU has pledged €100 million since 2017 to the G5 Sahel Joint Force, a cross-border international military mission made up of soldiers from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso – “a Sahelian counter-terrorism brigade” – which counts 5,000 troops.
The Spanish leader's visit comes at the end of a year in which the EUTM in Mali project has been criticized. Malian forces linked to the G5 Sahel Joint Force unity have been accused of killing civilians while EU forces have reportedly turned a blind eye, according to an investigation by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
“These major crimes threaten communal cohesion in Mali and facilitate jihadist groups’ recruitment efforts. They also undermine the role the international community plays in Mali, including its training programmes for the security forces and its (often ineffective) efforts to pressure the government to address the panoply of challenges to the country’s stability. Continuing failure to deal with these issues will only make peace harder to achieve, and will have wide-ranging consequences,” states the ECFR report.