Sahel: a summit to prepare for French military disintegration

#mauritania : France and the G5 Sahel countries meet for the first time on Friday when Paris announced a reduction in its military presence, while Chad and Mali must lead a delicate political change and jihadists remain omnipresent.

After more than eight years of large-scale engagements, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in June the imminent end of Operation Barkhane, which included the number of troops (currently 5,100 soldiers), the closure of military bases and the resupply of the adversary. The assertiveness was reviewed. Jihadists struggle around an “international alliance” connecting Europeans.

On Friday, he will meet with his G5 counterparts (Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina, Niger) remotely — covid compulsions — to discuss the process. Only Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum will be in Paris.

According to a senior official of the G5 Sahel Secretariat, “the redefinition of Operation Barkhana” will be at the center of the debate.

“We are not yet in a position to announce the main lines of this regional restructuring, but we must do it quickly”, indicated French military minister Florence Parly last week to the Union of Defense Journalists (AZD).

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In theory, the reduction in the French workforce would be gradual, a milestone of around 3,500 men within a year and then 2,500 by 2023, a source familiar with the matter recently told AFP. The elite commandos of the French task force “Sabre” must be retained for their part to continue the search for the jihadist leaders.

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“This change does not mean leaving the Sahel, or that we are going to slow down our counter-terrorism operations,” said Florence Parly.

But the summit will still be a matter of concern.

Jihadi groups continue to make their mark on the vast areas left by the central states. They cause huge losses every week within the armed forces as well as the civilian population, even though Barkhane has claimed responsibility for the deaths or arrests of officials linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group in recent months.

“Islamist-inspired terrorism (…) continues its expansion, its local roots and its global spread, according to a movement that is likely to concern us”, in June General François Lecointeur, Chief of Staff of the French Forces be adapted.

“political turning point”

Especially since the G5 states have experienced strong political turmoil in recent weeks.

Chadian President Idris Debbie Itno, who has led the country for 30 years, was killed in April on the frontlines against rebels. Power is now his son, Mahamat Idris Debi Itno, 37 years old.

>>> Read also: Video. Mali: Reactions after Macron announces end of Operation Barkhane

As far as Mali is concerned, he has held the reins twice in 9 months, the last of which is in May, during which the president and prime minister were arrested by a strongman of the country, Colonel Gosta. Paris suspended its military cooperation before resuming it last week, “noting” the commitments of the transitional authorities.

“Political twists and turns in Mali and Chad regularly raise questions about our commitment to the Sahel”, acknowledged Senate General Lecointeur, who will retire in a few days. “We have not resolved” the security situation in the region, he explicitly acknowledged, describing “a topic that arises as much from political questions as from military questions”.

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On Friday, Paris would also like to explain to its African partners the feasibility of its European project. France relies heavily on the Takuba Task Force, which is supposed to train Malian units in combat and which today brings together 600 men, half of whom are French and Estonians, Czechs, Swedes and Italians.

>>> Read also: Sahel: Faced with unpopularity of Barkhane, France will reduce its military presence

But many observers doubt the ability of this integration of special forces to compensate for the end of Barkhane.

The military involvement of many European governments “already exceeds the limits of their internal politics and they will now reconsider their presence in the region”, said researcher Andrew Lebovi of the European Council for International Relations (ECFR).

“Emmanuel Macron surprised his colleagues when he announced the end of Operation Barkhane. But his new plan does not offer a change in the direction of the Sahel.”

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