The Sahel is facing an increase in violence in such key areas as Burkina Faso, where just a week ago one of the worst attacks in recent years claimed the lives of more than a hundred people at the hands of an armed group. But violence is not the only problem in the region; instability is having a profound effect on the countries in the area.
One of the key countries for keeping the advance of terrorist groups in the region under control, Mali, has once again suffered a coup d'état. The Malian military, unhappy with the new government announced by the transitional authorities, arrested the transitional president, Bah Ndaw, and the prime minister, Moctar Ouané, on 24 May in a coup d'état that shook the country, which has been in a deep crisis for years. A few days after, the Malian Constitutional Court validated the coup d'état leader, Assimi Goita, as the new president of the Republic.
Faced with this situation, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced the end of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel. "The time has come to begin a profound transformation of our military presence in the Sahel," he declared during a press conference at the Elysée Palace. French troops have been deployed in the region since 2012 at the request of the Malian government, following a coup d'état that year. France deployed Operation Serval, which a year later became Operation Barkhane, with a regional approach aimed at combating the cross-border jihadist threat.
But after eight years of the mission, jihadist groups and their attacks have multiplied and spread from northern Mali to the area where the three borders meet. France currently has some 5,000 troops deployed in the area. The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, already anticipated this decision during the inauguration of the new International Academy for the fight against terrorism in Abidjan, Ivory Coast: "France obviously does not intend to stay in the Sahel forever. It is likely that the Barkhane device will have to be adapted".
Macron explained during a press conference at the Elysée Palace that France is putting an end to Operation Barkhane "as an external operation" and will work on "the implementation of an international alliance that associates the states of the region to continue the fight against terrorism and jihadist groups". The French president also stressed that the idea had never been to replace African states, "the lasting presence of our external operations cannot be replaced by the stability of sovereign states," Macron underlined.
The end of Operation Barkhane comes a week after France decided to suspend joint operations between French and Malian troops in retaliation for the coup d'état in Mali and suspicions that the military, now in the government, could be negotiating with certain terrorist groups. Emmanuel Macron has also commented on the situation in Mali, describing as a "mistake" and "bad jurisprudence" the decision by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to recognise Colonel Assimi Goita as president of Mali, following the second coup in nine months in the country.
The French president has not yet specified how or when the withdrawal of French troops will take place, but has said that the details will be finalised by the end of June after consultation with the US, the European states involved in the region and the five countries that make up the Sahel G5 (Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania). The most likely scenario is that French special forces would work alongside other European countries in the context of Operation Takuba, which fights militants in the Sahel alongside the Malian and Nigerian armies, while other French forces would work in the framework of training operations and as part of international missions already operating in the region.
The French president announces his foreign policy line just days before the G7 and NATO summit, where he will seek the support of more European countries, as well as the US, which has so far only provided logistical and intelligence support in the Sahel. After more than eight years of incessant military activity in the Sahel, France is putting an end to Operation Barkhane and advocating bilateral cooperation with the African countries themselves and an international alliance involving other Western countries, thus reducing the weight of the presence of French troops in the area.
Emmanuel Macron thus intends to open a new chapter in relations with the African continent focused on the economic sphere and has raised his voice to get the G7 to approve the goal of "60% of Africans vaccinated by the end of the first quarter of 2022".