French President Emmanuel Macron stated that France will soon begin to reshape its military presence in the Sahel region of West Africa and eventually halve it.

Macron announced last month that after eight years of helping local forces defend against threats from armed groups linked to Al-Qaida and ISIL (Islamic State), he will begin to withdraw from the new 5,100-member Sahel. Most of the moon-shaped troops.

“We will remain committed. But maintaining our commitment also requires adaptation,” Macron said in a press release on Friday after a virtual summit with the leaders of Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania that make up the G5 Sahel. Said at the meeting.

Macron announced that in the long run, France will reduce its army to 2,500 to 3,000.

The French leader insisted that his country will not abandon its African partners and will continue to help them fight al-Qaida and ISIL-related groups.

“France has no career or willingness to stay in the Sahel forever,” Macron said. “We were there because we were asked to go.”

French troops have been stationed in Mali since 2013, when they intervened to force armed rebels in the northern towns of the country to step down.

Operation Serval was later replaced by Barkhane and expanded to include other countries to help stabilize the wider Sahel region.

President Bazum made a speech at a joint press conference with Macron [Stephane De Sakutin/Pool/ AFP]

However, armed groups continue to launch devastating attacks against the troops fighting with them and increasingly against civilians.

According to data from the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project, nearly 7,000 people died last year due to the deteriorating fighting.

In late January, the United Nations warned that “relentless violence” had internally displaced more than 2 million people, up from 490,000 in early 2019.

Reconfigure French presence

Macron said that France will focus on the demolition of the crescent dunes and reorganization of troops in the next six months.

The French military will close the crescent-shaped dune bases in Timbuktu, Tesalite, and Kidal in northern Mali in the next six months, and begin to reconfigure their presence in the next few weeks, paying special attention to Mali and Buki. The turbulent border area between Nafaso and Niger.

Niger President Mohammed Bazum spoke beside Macron, welcoming French military support and training, but in an African way.

“The most important thing is that France insists on the principle of supporting, cooperating and supporting the armed forces of our different countries. We need France to give us what we don’t have. We don’t need France to give us what we already have,” he said, but didn’t elaborate. Description.

He acknowledged the failure of the local armed forces, but also praised their courage to fight armed groups.

French troops have been stationed in Mali since 2013, when they intervened to force armed rebels in the northern towns of the country to step down [File: Michele Cattani/AFP]

Macron said that France’s future military presence will focus on actions to eliminate armed groups and strengthen and train local troops.

“There is another guarantee…always be prepared to intervene quickly to support partner forces,” especially through military aviation in Niger and Chad.

He said that this new structure “seems to us to better respond to the evolution of threats.” He said that once the reorganization is completed, “Operation Barkhane will be closed.”

Political instability in the Sahel

Some experts said that the French decision may be related to the political instability in Mali.

A few days after the Mali coup leader Colonel Asimi Goita was sworn in as President of the Transitional Government, Macron announced the news in June, which consolidated his presence in West African countries after the second coup in nine months. Power control.

At the end of June, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to extend the duration of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, which was in crisis, and stated that the military government “is imperative” to hold presidential and legislative elections as scheduled in February next year.

The Security Council maintains the maximum number of UN troops at 13,289 soldiers and 1,920 international police, but in view of the increasing insecurity and physical violence among civilians in central Mali, it asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to advise on the size of the troops.

Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Hack reported in Dakar, Senegal, that Macron’s 2022 re-election campaign may be another reason for the announcement, and pointed out that France has a long history of retaining its military in Africa and will continue to be strong. exist.

“The French army has been stationed in Africa for more than 100 years. Despite the announcement, it still has a base in the former French colony, where it still has a strong military and security presence,” he said.


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