For years, SOFREP has been monitoring France’s activities in Europe and Africa.

The region has been in the middle of two military regions, Europe (NATO) and Africa, and, understandably, defending its territories could be challenging. But recent decisions of French Emmanuel Macron regarding military deployment leave many questioning his intention and strategies.

In 2020, the French government aimed to cut back on its military presence in the Sahel region to “make room for a stronger European commitment.” This happened after a year of the government spending resources to send their troops to Sahel. The last headcount was about 5,100, who reportedly participated in “Operation Barkhane,” which aims to fight the growing regional jihadist insurgency.

Defense Minister Florence Parly also visited Mali that year to assess the operations in Sahel and Mali. Since 2013, the French forces have been deployed to Mali (a former colony) to fight the Tuareg insurgency.

“[AQIM] is now the most dangerous enemy for Mali and the international forces,” Barkhane commander General Marc Conruyt said.

A year later, France announced that their “enemies have abandoned their territorial ambitions in favor of spreading their threat not only across the Sahal but across all of West Africa,” Macron said during a summit. “Unfortunately this offensive implies increased pressure on all the Gulf of Guinea countries, which is already a reality.”

Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron (Source: Press Service of the President of the Russian Federation/Wikimedia)

“We are going to reorganize ourselves in line with this need to stop this spread to the south, and it will lead to a reduction of our military footprint in the north,” Macron added.

However, even with all the braggadocio of the French military suppressing terrorist groups in Mali and Sahel, they pulled out all their remaining troops last month.

“…The Barkhane force has been reorganized outside the country,” the French army statement added that the “major logistic challenge has been met in an orderly and safe way, in coordination with all its partners.”

Macron assigned his leading defense chiefs and advisers to review their military postures on the continent after failing to deplete the jihadist forces who hired the Wagner Group as part of its offensive and defensive forces. So, as France pulled about 4,300 of its remaining troops, about 1,000 new Russian mercenaries have descended on Mali in recent months.

France Couldn’t Reach Significant Outcomes

About 4 million have been displaced because of the fighting in the region, and the locals are yearning for some balance and peace. When they began the campaign nine years ago, the French forces had good relations with the locals, but this broke down. Mali’s military leaders changed two years ago. Another coup happened last year when the new rulers refused to hand in power to civilians, as the French demanded.

French Soldiers
French Soldiers from the 1st Artillery Regiment (Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/picryl)

Even though the French had some victories throughout their campaign, with about 2,700 militants killed in the process, the Islamic threat continued to grow and attract recruits who despised how the French dealt with the locals.

Currently, various Islamist guerrillas are moving through Burkina Faso and Niger. Now, they’re recruiting in the south, all through the coastal states like Benin and Ivory Coast. Slow economic development and insecurity also triggered various coups and speedy militant recruitment in the region.

Still, France’s withdrawal dismisses the multinational effort to stabilize the region. The UN’s Minusma has about 12,000 blue-helmeted troops, including German and British forces, but with the French pulling out, others are expected to follow.

Macron said they would be repositioning their forces in Niger, and countries like the Gulf of Guinea would get extra help too. The coastal states continue to develop stronger armies.

Still, Macron’s deployment seems haphazard and struck with no concrete end vision in mind. Just as The Economist notes, “the fact that they face this test is in itself a worrying defeat, for the region and for its Western allies.”