Terrorism, acute food shortages, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change have all taken a toll on the security and humanitarian situation in the Sahel making security in the region tenuous.

The security situation in the G5 Sahel has continued to worsen, despite some successes on the ground. Boko Haram terrorists continue to operate with near impunity in and around the Lake Chad Basin region while violent extremists allied to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda operate freely in many of the region’s countries.

Meanwhile, dire food shortages plague the region where 20 million people, including five million children, face acute malnutrition.

The solutions to the many problems facing the Sahel and West Africa are not just military. Yet, the French believe that the military situation has to be addressed first and stabilized before the other factors can be effectively tackled. They already have about 5,100 troops in the region, with the majority being in Mali — a former French colony. They’ve also created the Special Operations Task Force Takuba (which means saber in Taureg). 

Takuba will ultimately consist of a 50-100 man French contingent and Special Operations elements from numerous European nations including Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, Denmark, Spain Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. Eventually, the plan is to have 500 operators in the task force.

The first 100 troops, comprised of French and Estonian SOF, are on the ground already.

About 60 Czech troops are soon arriving; 200 Italian SOF will arrive within the next several days and be on the ground before the end of August. Sweden, which has committed 150 troops to the task force, is expected to deploy its forces early next year. 

Most of these nations already have SOF units deployed in the region conducting Special Reconnaissance (SR), Direct Action (DA), and Foreign Internal Defence (FID) missions. 

The operators will train, equip, assist and accompany troops from the G5 Sahel (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania) in their ongoing fight against Islamic jihadists from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

The French plan is to stabilize the security situation by improving the overall military forces’ training and cooperation and by having the SOF troops help in pushing the violent extremist organizations out of the territory. This will allow the host nation governments to have a larger presence in the outlying areas and attend to the myriad of problems facing the region. 

During a June summit in  Mauritania, French President Emmanuel Macron urged allied governments to step up the military pressure on the insurgent groups. He stated that the recent killing of Abdelmalek Droukde, a key al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leader, was proof of progress. Droukde was killed by French Special Operations forces with the assistance of a U.S. drone. 

“We are all convinced that victory is possible in the Sahel,” Macron said.

However, the extremists have also stepped up their attacks, trying to build their presence and recruit among the region’s poorest and least densely populated areas. Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have seen violent terrorist attacks increase by 40 percent over the first quarter of 2020. 

These violent extremists are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, as well as ethnic and religious differences to cause more violence and continue to spread south, deeper into the African continent. 

One of the major issues facing the countries in sub-Sahara Africa is the lack of a unified strategy to help combat the spread of violent extremism. That point was hammered home by retired General Donald Bolduc, who was the head of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA), in a recent podcast with SOFREP Radio. 

That is one of the things that Takuba is hoping to accomplish, at least with the G5 Sahel. If it is successful on the ground militarily, this will open the door for more government programs and allow for humanitarian aid to proceed safely. Yet, many analysts believe that a military solution is impossible in the Sahel with just a few hundred Special Operators. 

But as Bolduc pointed out in the podcast, the U.S. used just a handful of Green Berets to take Afghanistan away from the Taliban. Yet, the U.S. then missed the opportunity to expand the victory, instead opting for a larger military presence and occupation. And 19 years later the troops remain — although that may change soon.