One of Spain's priorities is the stability of the Sahel in the face of the terrorist threat

Spain and its commitment to the Advanced Border

AFP/MICHELE CATANI - Soldiers in the Sahel

Spain has made it clear in recent months that one of its security priorities is the Spanish Advanced Border, that is, the Sahel. With Melilla less than 1,200 kilometres from Mali and Fuerteventura 110 kilometres from the African coast, the consequences of an unstable Sahel are devastating for Spain in the fields of immigration, drug trafficking, violent radicalisation and the economy. As for immigration, from January to October 2020 the Canary Islands have received 11,400 immigrants. This rise in the number of immigrants, which had not been experienced since the 2006 Cayman Islands crisis, is due to the strong economic impact the pandemic is having on the economy of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, to which must be added the political-security instability of the area, with the Jihadist threat very much present, and the instability caused by the coup d'état in Mali and the elections in Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. In the field of Jihadist terrorism, the number of attacks and Jihadist groups has only increased in the area of the three borders (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger), better known as the Liptako Gourma area. Jihadist radicalisation spread from northern Mali in 2011 to all the aforementioned border countries. The proximity to our country, migratory flows and Daesh's expansionist aspirations increase the risk of the Jihadist threat for Spain. For all these reasons Spain maintains close diplomatic and security relations with the countries of the Sahel region and West Africa, which are materialised in defence, training and cooperation agreements in matters related to immigration, trafficking and terrorism. 


Among all its actions, Spain is one of the biggest contributors to the European Union's EUTM-Mali training mission. It began in 2013 and will renew its fifth mandate this January, which will last until 2024. Spain has decided to increase the number of troops sent to the EUTM-Mali from 278 to 550. In addition, a Spanish general, Fernando Gracia, will take command of the mission from January. This is the third time that Spain has led this mission, but on this occasion, unlike the previous ones, General Gracia will lead the mission as a representative of the Eurocorps. Defence also plans to deploy two NH-90 helicopters and an Airbus 400M transport aircraft. These air assets should also be supplemented by the two T21 aircraft of the Ivory Coast Detachment committed to the French operation Barkhane to combat Jihadism, which is operating from Senegal.  Due to the health emergency and the coup d'état in Mali, the EUTM mission was halted during the toughest months of the pandemic, but has resumed its activity in November. This training mission is gaining significant importance and is expected to become a mission with more executive capabilities such as Operation Barkhane, although it will continue to be mainly focused on training during this period. One of the first steps taken by the mission in its fifth mandate is the training of Malian state forces on the ground. This change means that soldiers will no longer be trained solely at the military academies of Bamako and Kulikoro, but EUTM troops will accompany Malian army units throughout the country. In addition to the increased Spanish troops, the EU mission will double the number of troops, from 600 to 1100 in 2021, and is scheduled to reach 1230 by 2022. Another of the medium-term objectives of the EUTM-Mali mission is to extend its programme to all the G5-Sahel countries. In a context of cross-border threats, this type of strategy is the most effective in ensuring coordination between the forces of different countries facing the same threats and interoperability between them.

Apart from Spain's commitment to EUTM-Mali, since the end of June Spain has chaired the General Assembly of the Sahel Alliance, where it heads the strategy for coordinating and increasing development funds. In the framework of bilateral security cooperation agreements, Spain has undertaken to finance the equipment and training of the security forces of several Sahel and West African countries, giving priority to the coastguard and border police. To this end the Spanish government has decided to multiply the funds in The Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, among others. These actions demonstrate Spain's decision over the past year to prioritise the Sahel region in its foreign policy, focusing at the same time on the defence and development of its Advanced Border.