In the Sahel, France is dealing with the limits of military action

Au Sahel, la France face aux limites de l'action militaire

Paris | The military successes won in recent months in the Sahel by the French troops allow Paris to display a cautious optimism, but the balance sheet of seven years of operations, bears testimony to the tactical victories are not enough to sustainably exit this region of the rut.

While the armed groups had taken advantage in 2019 by multiplying the attacks against military bases of the malian and niger, the soldiers of the force antijihadiste French Barkhane, strong 600 additional troops – more than 5,000 in total – have reversed the trend with their partners.

First against the groups linked to the organization islamic State, compiled by Paris under the title islamic State in the grand Sahara (SAES). Designated the summit France – Sahel region of Pau (south of France) as the enemy number one in January, the SAES has since suffered heavy losses in the zone of the “three borders”, the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Then in the centre and the north of Mali, where the French special forces, who are referred by a drone in the u.s., have killed at the beginning of June the leader of Al-Qaeda in the islamic Maghreb (Aqim), the Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdal.

“It has reversed the uncertainty principle. It is we who are unpredictable for terrorist groups,” congratulated just after the operation, a high-ranking officer of the French staff. “Today in the Sahel, victory is possible and it is the perception which is in the process of settling with our partners,” claironnait even a councillor of the presidency.

But the optimism parisian is not unanimous.

“It is undeniable that there has been success tactics” in this area, said Jean-Herve Jezequel, a researcher at the International Crisis Group (ICG). But he opposes a “sense of déjà vu” to this self-satisfied. “The French have already given this speech several times, notably in 2018.”

At the time, allying with local armed groups, France had focused its action on the north-east of mali. Result, “of the big success stories tactics but an impact long term, limited or even zero. Since Barkhane was then abandoned the area to focus elsewhere and left the field open to the jihadists that they had hunted,” said a source to humanitarian aid in the area.

Exactions of the local forces

The central authorities of these countries, among the poorest in the world, are struggling to reinvest the territories freshly raked to provide protection, education, justice and basic services to populations that are shipped to themselves.

Thus, the mantra French is invariable for years: “the military component is only a tool”, still repeated recently the French minister of the Armies of Florence Parly, recalling the importance of a return of the service of the State and development assistance.

In January, the president and Emmanuel Macron warned that “all options” were on the table, including withdrawal French. Today, Paris continues to stress that its military presence is not meant to be eternal, but the starting time has not come.

France boasts a better coordination with the local forces, which, according to the executive French, have improved although still “fragile”. In fact, these forces under-equipped and poorly educated are still far from being self-reliant. In mid-June, in central Mali, at least 27 soldiers died in an ambush.

“The number of attacks in the Western region of the Sahel has increased by 250 % since 2018. The partner countries remain committed to counter terrorism, but do not have the means to contain or reduce the threat of a sustained basis”, writes the u.s. State department in a report released on Wednesday.

And charges of violation committed by the local forces in recent months, there is also the efforts of the international community (in addition to Barkhane, the un forces of the Minusma force and the training of the European EUTM).

The summit of Pau had specifically underlined the importance of combating the source of the feeling anti-French in the region. This is in part to mitigate the distrust against the former colonial power as France struggles to mobilise its other european partners.

Paris put as well much on Takuba, a group of special forces european supposed to accompany the Malians to the fight. Las, after a year of negotiations, only a hundred Estonians and French will be made within this summer. Some 60 Thecae are expected to join in the fall as well as 150 Swedish in 2021. Greece and Italy continue to study the file.

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