France Adds Forces to Sahel Counter-Terror Operation, Urges EU Allies to Join

By Fayçal Benhassain | January 14, 2020 | 4:59pm EST
French President Emmanuel Macron, flanked by President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and President Idriss Deby of Chad, at the end-of-summit press conference. (Photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
French President Emmanuel Macron, flanked by President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and President Idriss Deby of Chad, at the end-of-summit press conference. (Photo by Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Paris (CNSNews.com) – France will send another 220 soldiers to reinforce its troop presence in the Sahel, President Emmanuel Macron said at the end of a summit he hosted with leaders of the five affected African nations. But there are no signs yet that European allies will take up French requests to get involved in the counter-jihadist military operation in the region.

Macron said at a concluding press conference that the additional soldiers would help initiate a new dynamic to the operation, adding that “all European, African and international country partners who wish to join us are welcome to do so.”

There are currently 4,500 French soldiers in the so-called “G5 Sahel” countries of Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Operation Barkhane, a mission aimed at countering ISIS, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram in West Africa, was launched initially in Mali in 2013 to repel Islamist armed groups there.

Macron gathered with their presidents in southwestern France to talk about the future of their relationships and the fight against jihadists in the region.

Also present were U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres, and the presidents of the African Union’s secretariat and the European Council, the body comprising heads of E.U. member-states.

In a statement, the five African leaders “expressed the desire for France’s military involvement in the Sahel to continue and called for a strengthening of the international presence alongside them.”

“They expressed their gratitude for the crucial support provided by the United States and the desire for it to continue.”

French Defense Minister Florence Parly told RFI radio after the summit it was important to redefine the presence of French troops in the area and to call for an international presence to fight terrorism in the area.

“We are working on how to have our European partners participate to this fight” she added. 

Parly acknowledged that no country has so far committed troops to the Sahel operation, but said talks on the matter with European allies were underway.

A conference on the subject is due to take place in Brussels on March 26 – on the sidelines of a European Council meeting – during which France hopes to get allies onboard.

Another France-G5 summit is planned for June, in Nouakchott, Mauritania, to evaluate the results of the fight against terrorists. Macron has promised to present tangible results then in the fight against jihadists whose violent campaigns threaten to destabilize the whole region.

The French presence is not welcomed by all in the G5 countries, however. On Friday hundreds of people gathered in the center of the Malian capital, Bamako, shouting anti-French and anti- Barkhane slogans.

Demonstrations in the region have also been fueled by anger over France’s support for leaders many consider to be incompetent.

“Many Africans don’t like France because for them it is the former colonial power that intervenes in Africa’s problems,” Marc-Antoine de Montclos of the Paris-based Research Institute for Development told Euronews on Friday.

“It is rather humiliating to call on a former colonial power 60 years after the independence to sort out governance issues.”

He said many in the area are also frustrated that France, despite being viewed as powerful, has been unable to deal a decisive blow to the terrorists despite the passage of seven years.

In a book launching this week, entitled “A Lost War,” De Montclos depicts the Barkhane operation as stuck, and argues that France has been mistaken in its analysis and diagnosis of the problems in the region.

Apart from the French forces, there are 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Mali. The G5 Sahel countries themselves have a joint force of some 5,000 troops, but some are undertrained and poorly equipped.

The United States has two drone bases in Niger – one in the capital, Niamey, and a new one near the city of Agadez.  All parties at this week’s summit agreed it would be bad news if the U.S. decreases or withdraws support for the Sahel countries.

In October 2017, four U.S. Special Forces troops were killed in an attack by ISIS-affiliated terrorists in Niger.

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