World, Europe

France to end Sahel military operation in Africa

French president says fight against extremist forces will continue under Takuba special forces involving European, French troops

Shweta Desai   | 10.06.2021
France to end Sahel military operation in Africa FILE PHOTO

PARIS

French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday that France will end its flagship military engagement Operation Barkhane in the Sahel and establish an international “anti-terrorism” alliance to fight the extremist groups.

“We will have a profound transformation of our military presence in the Sahel ... I will initiate this transformation in the coming days ... by the end of June,” Emmanuel Macron said in a news conference held to share France’s international priorities ahead of the G7 summit in the UK and the NATO summit in Brussels.

He added a change of model to support the transition in a new framework with the establishment of an international alliance in the region that will “make interventions strictly against terrorism." The French army bases will be closed as a part of the transformation.

“The fight against terrorism will be carried out with special forces part of the Takuba operation with a strong French component – with several hundred more soldiers – and African, European and international forces,” he said.

The Takuba special joint force launched last year involves several European troops including from Estonia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, and the Netherlands to advise, assist and accompany Malian and G5 country forces.

The estimated strength of 2,000 European soldiers and 500 French soldiers will cooperate with G5 countries in the long run.

Macron’s statement came a week after France temporarily suspended joint military operations with the Malian army following a coup in May as a “precautionary and temporary measure.”

The French president had called the coup “unacceptable” and threatened to impose sanctions against the protagonists.

Operation Barkhane was launched in 2014 to conduct military operations against extremist armed groups and train and support military forces of the G5 countries. Some 5,100 French military personnel are deployed in the Sahel region as part of the operation.

France has faced criticism from the opposition as well as certain sections within Mali on the usefulness of Operation Barkhane. The credibility of France’s military presence further came under spotlight after the UN mission in Mali held that an airstrike in January by the French army overwhelmingly killed civilians among suspected non-armed members of terrorist groups; a claim denied by France.

The French military was also regularly targeted by extremist groups and at least five French soldiers were killed in three consecutive attacks in December and January.

Defense Minister Florence Parly in January hinted at a change in the military strategy with a reduced troop presence under Barkhane following significant military successes in 2020 against al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS.

Later at the N’Djamena summit with the leaders of the G5 states in Chad, Macron too announced significant changes will be made to the military system in the Sahel, but vowed to continue France’s current military engagement to help “decapitate” groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

France is involved in various security engagements in Mali with direct military operations as well as training and capacity building activities of the Malian security forces. Its aim is to prevent the Sahel region from “becoming a long-term hotbed of instability for terrorist groups and of various forms of trafficking in drugs, weapons or people, or migrant smuggling, which could also threaten its own security.”

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