End of Operation Barkhane reflects France's adjusted Africa strategy

China Military Online
Li Weichao
2022-11-28 16:52:24

By Huang Bing

French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that France was officially ending its Operation Barkhane in Africa's Sahel region. After announcing the decision to pull back its anti-terror military forces from Mali in February, France said in August that the pullback was completed. The series of moves indicated Paris’ adjusted Africa strategy and triggered attention to and concern over the security situation in the Sahel.

France initiated Operation Barkhane in 2014 to combat the increasingly rampant terrorism in the Sahel, but despite the dispatched 5,500 French troops over a long eight years, the number of terrorist organizations in the region has risen instead of diminishing, dragging France into a seemingly bottomless mire. With the worsening relationship with the Mali transitional government, the rising anti-France sentiments in local areas, and the anti-terror dilemma, Paris has successively withdrawn military forces from the region this year. However, instead of representing a thorough wash-hands of the matter, the move is more a “tactical adjustment” than a “strategic withdrawal”.

Africa is home to most of France’s overseas interests and is where France best exerts its international influence. According to Macron, his country will roll out a new Africa strategy in the next six months after consulting with African allies. Judging by the previous statements and declarations made by the French government and military, its future anti-terror actions in Sahel may show the following changes and features.

First, France will reduce its troops’ direct engagement in Africa and turn to rely more on the forces of Sahel countries as a way of “sharing responsibilities”. Macron has said many times that he hoped the Sahel countries will bear more responsibilities and exert their initiative. Early November this year, the Palais de l’Élysée made a public statement that they will scale back on military exposure in Africa and turn to support local armed forces with equipment, intelligence, and training. It’s possible that it will strengthen cooperation with Sahel countries by helping them train local anti-terror forces in the future.

Second, France will move from a mere military approach to a broader tactic. The rising intensity of terrorism in the Sahel despite years of combat has made France realize that military attacks alone are not enough to deal with the complicated situation there. During his African visit in July this year, Macron emphasized the food crisis and security, and publicly announced a plan to invest in education and culture in West Africa while strengthening economic and trade relations. Therefore, France may provide more aid to Sahel countries to help them achieve sustainable development in multiple areas, in hopes of tackling the terrorist threats in West Africa through comprehensive governance.

Third, France wants to make up for its own deficiencies with the strengths of European allies. In recent years, France has made great efforts to draw near its European allies on the issue of counterterrorism in Africa. When meeting with Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, in 2019, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suggested the EU give more support to Sahel’s anti-terror actions. Under France’s aggressive diplomacy, the EU first promised a 50 million Euro aid along with weapons and training for the G5 Sahel Joint Force against terrorism, followed by another 194 million Euro aid announced in 2020. In January 2022, when Macro was elaborating on France’s policy stance as rotating chair of the EU Council, he hoped the EU could rebuild its partnership with Africa. Going forward, the country may continue to lobby the EU through various diplomatic activities into increasing support for Africa’s anti-terror cause.

At the same time, the international community is paying close attention to the security situation in Sahel. To effectively assess the regional situation and urge the international community to cope with the complicated challenges in the region, UN Secretary-GeneralAntónio Guterres and African leaders announced in September this year to form an Independent High-Level Panel on Security and Development in the Sahel. The region’s security situation has also entered the discussions of international organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union. In any case, there is still a long way to go and multi-party cooperation and contributions are required to realize lasting peace and security in the Sahel.


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