Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Macron to reduce French military troops in the Sahel in Africa

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced the future reduction of France’s military presence fighting Islamic extremism in the Sahel region of Africa.

At a news conference, Macron spoke about the “profound transformation” of France’s military operation in Mali and neighboring countries – without giving a time frame.

France’s Operation Barkhane will be formally ended, he said, and will be replaced by another mission focused on fighting Islamic extremists who rely more on local partners.

Details will be announced at the end of June, including the number of troops France holds in the region. France now has more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce our multiple military deployments in the region,” he said.

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French soldiers from Barkhane, serving four months in the Sahel, boarded a US C130 transport plane, departing base in Gao, Mali on June 9, 2021. (Jerome Delay / AP Photo)

“I say it again: France is only in Africa at the request of Africans … to fight terrorism,” Macron added. “But the form of our presence, an operation abroad involving 5,000 troops, is no longer adapted to the reality of the fighting.”

He said that in future France would focus on the deployment of special forces, in cooperation with other European countries, as part of the so-called Takuba task force, which is intended to play an increasing role in the fight against extremists.

A French top official said it would take several months to implement the changes. Paris will first negotiate with its European and African partners, he said.

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Several thousand French troops in total will remain in the region and take part in various operations, including the new co-operation mission.

“Ultimately, the French presence in the Sahel will still be significant,” the official said. He spoke anonymously according to the usual usage of the presidency.

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A British Royal Air Force transport helicopter soars over the tarmac of Barkhane Operations Base in Gao, Mali, on 7 June 2021. (Jerome Delay / AP Photo)

French troops have been in Mali since 2013 when they intervened to force Islamic extremist rebels out of power in villages in the north of the country. Operation Serval was later replaced by Barkhane and expanded to include Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania in an effort to help stabilize the wider Sahel region.

Islamic terrorists, however, continued to launch devastating attacks against the military fighters as well as increasingly against civilians. About a week ago, extremists in Burkina Faso launched the deadliest attack in years, killing at least 132 people.

Hundreds have also died since January in a series of massacres targeting villages on the border of Niger and Mali.

While governments in the Sahel accepted France’s military aid, some critics compared their presence to that of a remaining part of the French colonial government.

Conflict analysts believe the move could be linked to political instability in Mali. The announcement by France comes days after the head of state of Mali, Col. Assimi Goita, sworn in as president of a transitional government, strengthened his grip on power in the West African country after carrying out his second coup in nine months.

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French Barkhane soldiers who completed a four-month service in the Sahel left their base in Gao, Mali, aboard a US C130 transport aircraft on June 9, 2021 (Jerome Delay / AP Photo)

Michael Shurkin, director of global programs at 14 North Strategies, a consulting firm in Dakar, Senegal, said: ‘(The truth) is that France’s strategy can only work if the Malians do their part, which means the government must do better word. But Goita’s series of coups indicate that the Malians are not. ”

Siaka Coulibaly, an analyst at the Center for Public Policy Monitoring at Citizens in Burkina Faso, said the decision was not a surprise but was concerned about the consequences of the reduction in troops.

‘The reduction of Barkhane troops will have no effect on Mali, as Russian troops will arrive and replace them. “Meanwhile, the reduction will have an impact on Burkina Faso, as the terrorists will try to move to Burkina Faso and are likely to spread south,” Coulibaly said.

A 31-year-old Nigerian staff member at Barkhane’s army base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, told the AP that it was “not fair” and “not normal” that the situation in Mali should affect the situation in Niger. The AP does not use his name to protect his identity.

By Sylvie Corbet

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Nation World News Desk
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