Chad hosts G5 Sahel summit with concerns over jihadist activity

Developments in Operation Barkhane are expected
A Malian army soldier stands guard at the entrance to the infrastructure of the G5 Sahel, a five-nation anti-terrorist force (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad)

AFP/SEBASTIEN RIEUSSE  -   A Malian army soldier stands guard at the entrance to the infrastructure of the G5 Sahel, a five-nation anti-terrorist force (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad)

The heads of the G5 Sahel member states are meeting in N'Djamena on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the situation in the region. French President Emmanuel Macron will join by video link, after deciding to cancel his trip a few days ago due to the health crisis.  

The last G5 Sahel summit was held just over a year ago in Pau, where Macron announced the dispatch of 500 additional French troops to reinforce security mainly in the Liptako Gourma area between the border region of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Over the past year, French Operation Barkhane forces have focused primarily on counter-terrorism in this region.  The jihadist groups with the most terrorist activity in the area are: Katiba Macina, belonging to the JNIM network, linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which carries out most of its attacks in central Mali; Ansaroul Islam, which has close links with the JNIM network and carries out most of its attacks in northern Burkina Faso; and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which is present in western Niger and northeastern Mali. Ninety per cent of the latter group's attacks occur within 100 kilometres of borders. The ISGS is closely linked to the Islamic State of West Africa, which has a presence in Nigeria and Niger.  

Fotografía de archivo, el presidente francés Emmanuel Macron participa en una sesión de trabajo con los líderes de los países del G5 Sahel de África occidental durante la cumbre del G5 Sahel en Nuakchot, Mauritania, el 30 de junio de 2020
REUTERS/LUDOVIC MARIN - File photo, French President Emmanuel Macron participates in a working session with leaders of West African G5 Sahel countries during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020

At this G5 Sahel summit, news is also expected on Operation Barkhane, since last January, French Defence Minister Florence Parly warned of the possibility that this French operation would reduce its presence in Mali, mainly due to the latest jihadist attacks in December and January, in which several French were killed in combat. In all interviews following this announcement, the French government has reiterated that this readjustment will depend on what happens at the G5 Sahel summit, especially the level of commitment of African partners. Over the past few weeks, Emmanuel Macron has received all the G5 Sahel presidents at the Elysée Palace, the last two being the recently re-elected Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso and Bah N'Daw, the transitional president in Mali, having recently dissolved the military junta that staged the coup last August.  

Tuesday will also see a conference of the Coalition for the Sahel, launched at the 2020 Pau summit, which will take on greater importance in 2021 for mobilisation and coordination with international partners. For the first time, the Sahel Coalition will have a high representative chosen by the G5 Sahel member states who will promote the Coalition abroad. Among those attending the conference, the new US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will be present via video-message. This gesture could mean that Joe Biden's new administration is counting on being more involved in Sahel security, unlike his predecessor. Several European countries members of Task Force Takuba will also be present at the Sahel Coalition conference.

Soldados del Ejército francés buscan la presencia de IED (Dispositivos Explosivos Improvisados) durante la Operación Barkhane en el norte de Burkina Faso
AFP/MICHELE CATTANI - French Army soldiers search for the presence of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) during Operation Barkhane in northern Burkina Faso.

In the meantime, jihadist expansion has recently begun to be observed in west and south Mali, reaching the borders of Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea and even Senegal. On February 1, the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE), equivalent to the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) in Spain, indicated that, according to its information, the JNIM jihadist network is planning to expand towards the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. According to the DGSE, last February there was a meeting of jihadist leaders in which this was one of the points of discussion. The terrorist presence in Benin and Côte d'Ivoire is nothing new. In 2016 there was already an attack perpetrated by AQIM in a seaside resort in Côte d'Ivoire, in 2019 the kidnapping of two Frenchmen in the north of Benin and last June another attack in Kafolo (Côte d'Ivoire) that killed fourteen soldiers. For this reason, in addition to the Coalition countries, the president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will also be present at this G5 Sahel summit to ensure regional coordination in the face of the jihadist threat. In addition to ECOWAS, the expansion of jihadism towards Mali's southern and western borders means that Operation Barkhane is also considering sending troops to these borders.