France ends counter-terrorism Operation Barkhane in Sahel region

Photo: EPA President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawing down of French forces battling Islamist militants in Mali in the troubled Sahel region of Africa during a wide-ranging press conference on Thursday, news wires reported. Macron said that France's counter-terrorism operation in West Africa would come to an end and be merged into a broader international mission. "We will make a drawdown in an organised way," he said, adding that details would be finalised by the end of June.

 

Macron said that France will hold a dialogue with its African and European partners but will not work with governments in the Sahel that continue to negotiate with Islamist militants.

France currently has 5,100 troops in the arid and volatile Sahel region, which stretches across Africa under the Sahara desert encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The French Sahel mission, known as Operation Barkhane, has been headquartered in the Chadian capital N'Djamena.

Macron has pushed for years for other Western states to share more of the burden of security operations that see French soldiers, backed by air power, intervening against jihadist groups alongside local forces.

He has faced pressure at home to end a deployment that began in January 2013, while in the Sahel region itself the presence of French forces is rejected by some politicians and locals as a colonial throwback.

Macron's announcement is likely to force the issue of security in the Sahel onto the agenda of a meeting of G7 leaders in Britain set to run from Friday to Sunday and a summit of the NATO military alliance in Brussels on 14 June.

The Sahel is seen by many Western politicians and experts as a major risk because of the growing strength of jihadist groups there, as well as its role as a crossroads for arms and people-smuggling.

In February, Macron announced his intention to reduce French troop numbers but said that a "massive withdrawal of men, which is a possibility I have considered, would be a mistake".

At a virtual summit held at the time, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, known as the G5 countries, warned him against the dangers of a rapid pullout.

Since then veteran Chad leader and close French ally Idriss Déby Itno was killed in battle while Mali saw a second coup that has complicated relations with Paris.

Last week France suspended its joint military operations with Malian forces and stopped providing defence advice because of the ruling junta's failure to give guarantees to hold free elections.

 

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