According to several news reports from Africa, the French government is hoping to cut back its military presence in the Sahel to make room for a stronger European commitment.
If true, this decision comes less than a year after sending hundreds of extra troops to the Sahel. The last surge brought the total of French troops in the Sahel to 5,100. They are participating in “Operation Barkhane” that fights the growing jihadist insurgency in the region. French troops have been stationed in the region since 2013.
The French defense ministry has not commented on any troop withdrawal plans.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly both visited Mali in recent weeks to help the French government assess its troop presence in the Sahel.
Some military analysts believe that the move to cut back on French troops is because there is soon to be an influx of other European troops to replace the outgoing French.
The reduction of French troops will bring back the number of men in “Operation Barkhane” to January levels. At that time the security situation in the Sahel, especially in Mali, had deteriorated to the point where deploying extra French troops was deemed necessary.
“We are getting close to the end of the year, a natural point to assess our progress,” Parly said during her visit to Mali. Her statement was referencing the comments that President Macron had made during the summer. Macron had said that France would reassess and restructure its Barkhane force by the end of the year.
The French began their deployment to Mali, their former colony, in 2013 a year after a Tuareg insurgency had broken out. The insurgency was soon hijacked by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“[AQIM] is now the most dangerous enemy for Mali and the international forces,” Barkhane commander General Marc Conruyt said.
The jihadists were at first pushed back. Yet, they have since managed to regroup, rearm, and gain strength. They are now plaguing the G5 nations of the Sahel: Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger.
The countries have little presence in their outlying areas. Security is scant, services, education, and medical infrastructure are basic. This has allowed the jihadists to build up their influence in the region.
Seven years into their deployment, the French don’t seem any closer to success than they were at the outset. French lawmakers and people are worried that the country is getting dragged into an unwinnable forever war.
Although, the security situation needs to first be stabilized any viable solution needs to also be political.
To further tackle the security situation, the French have created the Special Operations Task Force “Takuba.”
Takuba will train, advise, assist, and accompany host nation troops from the G5 Sahel. Besides France, it will consist of troops from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The plan is to train the host nation G5 forces to the extent that they’ll soon be able to handle their own security situation.
The operation isn’t expected to be fully staffed until 2021. However, soldiers from Estonia are already on the ground and conducted a joint mission with host nation troops last month. More troops from the Czech Republic and a 150-man Swedish unit are expected in 2021. Italy has also pledged 200 troops but there is no timetable for their deployment.
“France was alone for a long time, but it is no longer alone,” said Parly. “I’m very optimistic that we’re now going to shift gears.”
(Lead Image: France24)