Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday the upcoming end of the Barkhane military operation in the Sahel, where French troops engaged since 2013 in the fight against jihadist groups will give way to an “international force” whose composition remains to be determined.
It is a major turning point that is being prepared in the fight against jihadism in the Sahel. Emmanuel Macron announced, Thursday, June 10, a start to reduce the anti-jihadist military operation Barkhane, especially in Mali, hit by a recent coup, during a press conference at the Elysee Palace upstream of the G7.
“Following consultations (…) we will initiate a profound transformation of our military presence in the Sahel”, explained the French president, announcing the “end of Operation Barkhane as an external operation” and implementation of “an international alliance bringing together the States of the region”.
This “transformation” will notably involve the closure of French army bases and the priority given to the fight against the jihadists by the special forces.
“It is not a withdrawal, but an evolution”, specifies the deputy Thomas Gassilloud of the commission of national defense and the armed forces, on the antenna of France 24.
The schedule and terms of the end of Operation Barkhane will be unveiled at the end of June, according to the head of state.
“Obviously, France is not intended to stay in the Sahel forever (…). It is likely that the Barkhane device will have to be adapted,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves said earlier. Le Drian, traveling to Abidjan, without further details.
Paris is deploying some 5,100 soldiers against jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda, a major support for the weakened armies of the Sahel states who are struggling to fight them alone.
In mid-February, during a summit in N’Djamena with G5 Sahel partners (Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania), the French president announced that Paris did not intend to reduce “immediately” Barkhane workforce.
However, he had outlined an exit strategy, in favor of European reinforcements ready to join them, while France has been fighting massively the jihadists in the Sahel since early 2013.
No negotiations with the jihadists
France has achieved tangible successes against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and the organizations affiliated to Al-Qaeda grouped together within the GSIM (Support Group for Islam and Muslims), without however halting the jihadist spiral. .
As the 2022 presidential election approaches, this long-term military effort also raises growing questions in France, as 50 soldiers have been killed in action since 2013.
The head of GSIM, Iyad Ag Ghaly, responsible for numerous attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, now appears to be Barkhane’s priority objective.
“Clearly, today, it is Iyad Ag Ghali who is the number one priority (…) For us, it is the person who must absolutely succeed in capturing, or even neutralizing if this is not possible. to capture it, in the coming months “, underlined the commander of special operations, General Eric Vidaud, on June 3 on France 24.
The situation has become more complicated in recent weeks, on the one hand with the brutal death of President Idriss Déby in Chad, and especially with the second coup in eight months in Mali, the central country of Operation Barkhane.
The political upheavals in Mali question the French presence, in particular because some of the Malian leaders wish to start a negotiation process with certain jihadist groups.
Emmanuel Macron on Thursday posited as a condition for the resumption of mixed military operations with the Malian forces “clear” commitments from the transitional authorities not to dialogue with the jihadists.
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France had announced the freezing of its joint operations with the Malian army to condemn the coup, and to support international pressure exerted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Union Africa to urge the Malian authorities to organize a transition to civilian power and elections in 2022.
The mission of West African states dispatched to Mali said it was “reassured” by the commitments made by the new president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, regarding a return of civilians to power in early 2022.
For his part, Emmanuel Macron lamented that the ECOWAS “recognized” Colonel Assimi Goïta as president of the transition, after a second putsch, seeing it as “bad jurisprudence” for Africa and an “error”.
Distribute the war effort
To begin this new phase of its engagement in Mali, Paris is counting on the “internationalization” of the combat support effort of local, under-equipped and under-trained forces.
France is particularly counting on the rise of the group of European special forces Takuba, which it initiated and which today brings together 600 men in Mali, half of them French, as well as a few dozen Estonians and Czechs. and nearly 140 Swedes.
Italy has pledged up to 200 soldiers, Denmark a hundred and several other countries, including Greece, Hungary and Serbia, have expressed their interest.
“Our objective is to reach 2,000 men on Takuba, with a French pillar of around 500 men, over time, and cooperation with the armies of the region, with several holdings. [bases militaires, NDLR] but each time in support, with soldiers who would be there in the long term alongside the Sahelian soldiers, which is a different logic from that of the opex ” [opérations extérieures, NDLR], French President Emmanuel Macron explained in February.
With Reuters and AFP