Editorial of the “World”. The announcement by the President, Emmanuel Macron, Thursday, June 10, of the end of the external operation “Barkhane” in its current form has the merit of clarity. It puts an end to the less and less shared illusion of a possible military victory against a protean insurrectionary movement, now firmly anchored in the local populations.
If the chief of the armed forces promises a reduction of the French military apparatus and a “Change of model” of this commitment, according to a timetable that remains to be specified – but which should involve the departure by early 2023 of half of the 5,100 soldiers currently deployed – is that the results of eight years of French intervention in the Sahel is not bright. Admittedly, the deployment of “Serval” at the beginning of 2013, under the presidency of François Hollande, at the request of the Malian authorities, had stopped the advance of jihadist groups in its tracks and even undoubtedly avoided the collapse of the Malian state.
But since then, jihadist groups have resumed their progress. Not only has the Sahel become the“Epicenter of international terrorism”, in the words of Emmanuel Macron, but the countries of the Gulf of Guinea that were thought to be safe are now targeted. Local states have not been able to take over to secure the liberated areas. The human toll continues to increase. According to the NGO Acled, more than 8,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since 2013. Two million inhabitants have been displaced by the fighting. Fifty French soldiers died in service
Accusations of neocolonialism
In addition, support for Operation “Barkhane” has seriously eroded in public opinion, in France and in the Sahel. The French understand less and less why soldiers are dying to defend a Malian army which has distinguished itself above all for its ability to lead two coups d’état in the space of nine months. The inhabitants of the Sahel – sometimes inspired by a Russia on the lookout for all French missteps in Africa – accuse Paris of neocolonialism. They also note that the French presence has not put an end to the massacres of civilians and that it is not free from burrs.
The time has therefore come to whistle the end of “Barkhane”. This does not mean, however, that France will desert the region. Special forces, Macron said, will remain deployed to conduct strictly counterterrorism operations. This is undoubtedly where the results of the French intervention are the most convincing, with the elimination of several jihadist leaders. But these short-lived victories never dealt fatal blows to armed groups linked to Al-Qaida or to the Islamic State organization.
The second pillar of the French presence concerns the training of local armies supposed to take over security in the field. This component will be the subject of an additional effort led by France and its European partners. But, for now, the effectiveness of this approach leaves more than one doubtful observer: hundreds of millions of euros have already been spent in recent years to try to improve the organization and combat capabilities of the Malian army, without much success.
As for the joint force of the G5 Sahel, bringing together units from the armies of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, Emmanuel Macron did not even refer to it. Paris has nevertheless carried this regional security architecture at arm’s length since its creation in 2014. Another lost illusion.