The French forces of Operation Barkhane have suffered a further blow in the three-frontier zone linking Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Although this time there are no casualties for the time being, six French soldiers have had to be transferred to the military hospital in Gao, though three of them will be moved to another hospital in the Malian capital later today.
The attack took place this past Friday when a car was speeding towards the rear of a convoy of Operation Barkhane and the Malian armed forces. In view of the imminent threat, an armoured infantry fighting vehicle (VBCI) fired on the vehicle when the occupant activated the explosive charge it was carrying, injuring six of the soldiers, although not seriously, according to the communiqué issued by the French armed forces.
This is the third attack suffered by the French forces in scarcely a month. At the end of December three French soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), one of the main threats this type of operation has to combat, and which has led to the development of safer armoured vehicles specially designed to minimise the risk to the occupants of these devices.
At the beginning of January another two French soldiers were killed by an explosion during a reconnaissance mission. In the middle of the week and on the Friday of the new attack, tributes were paid in France to the soldiers who died in the attacks. The first two attacks were claimed by JNIM, the branch of al-Qaeda in this region, but no claim has yet been made for the third.
The number of French soldiers who died in the course of the Serval and subsequently Barkhane operations conducted in this region of the Sahel is now over fifty, nearly a decade after their presence. This human cost, added to the economic one –about one billion euros a year– Is what is almost forcing the Elysée Palace to seek other alternatives to maintain the fight against Jihadism in the region.
Although the departure of the French forces, or at least of a significant part of them, is not a reality in the short term, Paris continues to seek allies in Europe to contribute to the weight of this fight against terrorism in an area that is critical for Europe and Spain. Therefore, through Task Force Takuba, various European countries are contributing special operations troops on the ground: mainly Estonia and the Czech Republic, but Swedish, Greek and Italian forces are also expected to join soon.
France is firmly committed to sharing this burden, albeit under its leadership, something that the rest of the European countries, beginning with Spain, should neither ignore nor avoid. The success of the stabilisation of this region will depend partly on the migratory pressure we are experiencing, a fact that has also worsened in recent months.