France’s military camps in Mali are going quiet as Paris winds down its security presence in the restive West African country, but there is one notable exception.
Menaka is bustling with activity, boasting brand-new tents, freshly dug trenches and choppers taking off and landing in a constant ballet in the sky.
What was once a quaint army base in France’s Barkhane anti-jihadist operation is rapidly turning into a cornerstone of Takuba, the European force that is to pick up the slack from France’s partial disengagement.
The footprint of the camp in northeast Mali has already grown to 30 hectares (75 acres) from the eight it had before, said Captain Josselin as he navigated his way through the busy construction vehicles.
Takuba, made up of European special forces, is based on an initiative by France, eager to share the burden of looking after Mali’s security with its partners.
Takuba’s 900 soldiers are to help Mali’s army acquire the combat skills necessary to become self-reliant, a daunting task given the volatile situation on the ground.
Even after years of a foreign troop presence, jihadists in this border region of the Sahel between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso continue their incursions and harassment actions.
A week ago, a rocket landed in the camp, though it failed to explode. The day before another multi-national camp, at Gao, became the target of a mortar attack.