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18th Sep 2021

EU preparing to send soldiers to Mozambique

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU is preparing to help train Mozambique's armed forces, amid wider ambitions for a stronger European military capacity.

Military trainers and soldiers to protect them ought to be deployed well before the end of the year, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday (6 May) after meeting defence ministers in Brussels.

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"If we are not able to send the mission by the end of this year, I would not consider this as a good result. I would hope we would do it before," he said.

"The Mozambique government has been asking for help, we will try to send a training mission ... in order to contain the security situation," he added.

Portugal, a former colonial power in the African country, already sent some 60 special-forces personnel to help train local troops in April.

"Portugal has already offered half of the staff [for an EU mission] and sent military instructors, but that has to be considered as an advance to be integrated into a European Union training mission if we finally agree," Borrell said.

"The political will [among EU states] is there," he also said.

Mozambique has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in its gas-rich Cabo Delgado province for the past four years.

But the new sense of urgency comes after militants attacked the town of Palma in March, killing locals and foreign workers, and prompting French energy firm Total to put its project there on hold.

The EU currently has six military and 11 civilian security-training and monitoring missions abroad, most of them in Africa and the Middle East.

And the Mozambique one would resemble its military-training mission in Mali, Borrell said, which has about 150 personnel.

Some EU countries have also formed "battlegroups" of up to 1,500 soldiers which could, in theory, play an active combat role in emerging conflicts.

These have never been sent into action in the 14 years since they were drawn up on paper.

But defence ministers, on Thursday, also discussed creating a rapid reaction force of up to 5,000 soldiers in future.

The idea is backed by 14 EU states - Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain.

Under the EU treaty, they can go ahead even if others, such as Poland, which fears this might compete with Nato structures, do not want to take part.

"Rivalry between the EU and Nato would be wrong," Poland's defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak said on Thursday.

But transatlantic military ties got a shot in the arm the same day, when the EU said Nato allies Canada, Norway, and the US could take part in a €1.7bn EU scheme to help forces move around Europe more easily, by building bridges, roads, and airfields, as well as slashing red tape.

"It will make EU defence more efficient and contribute to strengthen our security", Borrell said.

"It will be a quantum leap in terms of concrete cooperation," Germany's defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer added.

"Non-EU allies play an essential role in protecting and defending Europe," Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg also said.

Canada, Norway, and the US all have soldiers in Nato-flag battalions in Poland and the Baltic states.

The 'tripwire' forces are designed to deter Russian aggression by the promise of surging much larger units across Europe to the region if they were attacked.

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