The French president says Operation Barkhane, which has 5,100 people, will be replaced by a new mission backed by other partners.
President Emmanuel Macron has said that France’s military operation in the Sahel region, hit by violence, in West Africa will no longer exist in its current form, adding that it will be replaced by another troop mission. French who will rely even more on other partners.
“The time has come; the continuation of our engagement in the Sahel will not be the same way, ”Macron said Thursday at a large press conference, announcing a“ profound transformation ”of his country’s military presence in the region – but giving few details .
France currently has about 5,100 soldiers deployed along the semi-arid strip on the southern shore of the Sahara Desert as part of its Operation Barkhane, whose headquarters are located in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.
His forces are mainly focused on fighting with armed groups in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. Last week, France suspended its joint military operations with Malian forces and ceased to provide defense advice after the second coup in the country nine months. Paris cited the failure of the new military government to give guarantees to hold free elections for its decision.
“We will make an organized drawdown,” Macron told reporters, adding that details, including on the number of soldiers France has in the region, will be finalized by the end of June.
“We will have a dialogue with our African and European partners. We will maintain a counter-terrorism pillar with special forces with several hundred forces … and there will be a second pillar that will be cooperation, and that we will strengthen.”
Natacha Butler, of Al Jazeera, reported from Paris, said the timing of the comments was significant, pointing to last month’s coup in Mali and a meeting next week of NATO allies in Brussels, as well. and upcoming French elections.
“Operation Barkhane and its presence in the Sahel have become increasingly unpopular in France,” he said. “More than 50 [French] the soldiers have been dead since 2013 and so there is no doubt that Emmanuel Macron is very aware that French public opinion is turning against him ”.
The announcement came after Macron in February – during a virtual summit with leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel countries Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – had expressed his intention to reduce the number of French troops in a few months. .
At the time, Macron’s G5 partners had warned them against the dangers of a quick withdrawal.
Presence for years
The conflict in the western part of the Sahel largely between state forces and armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda has devastated much of the region in recent decades, sparking a major humanitarian crisis.
Nearly 7,000 people died as a result of aggravated fighting last year, according to data from the Armed Conflict and Situation Events Data Project. In late January, the UN warned that “uninterrupted violence” had displaced more than two million people internally, from 490,000 by early 2019.
Last year, the French government had increased its number of Barkhane troops to 600.
France’s military involvement for several years has sparked sporadic protests in Mali and other countries, with protesters saying their presence is contributing to the worsening crisis.
March, the United Nations reported that a French air strike in central Mali earlier this year had killed 19 civilians at a wedding party. France has denied UN findings, claiming its forces had hit an “armed terrorist group” near Bounti’s country, while Macron has often condemned the animosity towards France, the former colonial power of the United States. region.
Ahead of Thursday’s press conference, reports citing military and diplomatic sources had indicated that an “adjustment” in the French presence would depend on the involvement of other European countries in the Takuba Task Force fighting armed groups in the US. Sahel next to the Malian and Nigerian armies. These forces have increased in recent months.