Opération Extérieures (OPEX) - Barkhane
The French-led Operation Barkhane succeeded Operation Serval in August 2014, but with a much wider geographic focus. France sent troops into Mali in 2013 to help drive back Islamist insurgents who had seized the north of the country. But attacks have continued since then, and the conflict has since spread to the country's center as well as to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
In the Malian capital, Bamako, protests erupted in late 2019, with demonstrators holding up signs proclaiming, “France dégage” – France get out – amid mounting frustration over the deteriorating security situation in the West African nation. Protests against France, the former colonial power, spread from Mali to Burkina Faso and Niger in recent months and are sometimes expressed in creative ways. “Everywhere in the region, opposition movements and groups are demanding the French presence is imperialist or neo-colonial. They tend to think that as soon as there is a difficulty on the ground, it is France’s fault,” French President Emmanuel Macron said 23 December 2019 in Niger’s capital city. “President Issoufou clearly reminded us in what capacity France has intervened at the express demand of the Nigerien state. In other words, sovereign figures think that they need French support through Operation Barkhane.” Groups opposing the French-backed militarisation of the country use anti-colonial language from an Islamic perspective, and their message is: you have to chase the French coloniser who hates Islam.
The conflict in Mali involves several players, including the Malian army, which relies on support from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as French forces with the tacit support of the US and the UK, and other allies. These forces up until very recently were pitted against various violent groups – like the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Al Dine (AAD) – but those have now united under Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), or the Group to Support Islam and Muslims. This group also includes members of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), under the leadership of Iyad Ag Ghali, a historical Tuareg fighter (and member of MNLA) and who has pledged allegiance to the Taliban and Ayman Mohammed Rabie al Zawahiri.
France made an early commitment to support the bordering states of Lake Chad in their fight against terrorism. On a political level, with the first Conference ever organized on the issue with the countries of the region, held in Paris in May 2014 and chaired by the President of the Republic, François Hollande; On the ground, with the action of the French armed forces of Operation Barkhane. Launched in August 2014, Operation Barkhane aims to provide logistical and intelligence support to countries in the region in the fight against terrorism. Barkhane supports the countries of the Sahel-Saharan strip grouped within the "Sahel G5" for a regional response to the security challenges and the terrorist threat.
In this context, France is a strategic partner, with 4,000 deployed troops in Gao (Mali) and N’Djamena (Chad). The force, with approximately 4,500 soldiers, is spread out between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. With headquarters is in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, it also has combat aircraft and intelligence collection and operations in Niger’s capital Niamey, Agadez, Arlit, Tillabéry, and several other sites, as well as around 1,500 troops in northern Mali scattered between the large base at Gao, others at Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit, and more recently a base at Gossi closer to central Mali as well as the border with Burkina Faso. France’s Special Operations Task Force for the region, Operation Sabre, is in Burkina Faso.
Operation Barkhane aims to:
- support the armed forces of the partner countries in their actions to combat terrorist armed groups;
- strengthen the coordination of international military capabilities;
- prevent the reconstruction of terrorist sanctuaries in the region.
Launched on 01 August 2014, Barkhane is an operation led by the French armies in the Sahel-Saharan strip. It relies on a local approach built on the partnership with the G5 Sahel countries to fight against Terrorists armed groups (GAT). The sahelian strategy of France aims to ensure that partner states acquire the capacity to ensure their safety independently. It is based on a global approach (political, security and development) whose military component is carried by Operation Barkhane, conducted by French arm.
The Saharan dunes are deformed under the influence of the wind, but they are but slightly displaced; in order for the sand to accumulate topographical conditions are required which are very definite; but which are, as yet, but little known. Only the sand itself is mobile. Ananogous conditions are to be found in the clouds, which persist in hanging around certain mountains for a long time in spite of the wind; the water vapor moves constantly, but does not become condensed except around the summit of the mountain. To prove the great mobility of the dunes some authorities have often cited the actual burying by sand of villages and oases, without reflecting that the planting of palm trees and the building of houses created the obstacles which supported the sand. The Saharan dunes show very varied arrangements. The growing dunes, the Barkhane, which is often mentioned as the typical form of the dune, is rare, and appears to be, on the contrary, an accidental form.
In the current context, Barkhane's effort is focused on direct fight against the terrorist threat, the support of the partner forces, the supportinternational forces and actions in favor of the population in order to allow a gradual return to normal in areas where state authority was in question. The Barkhane force has the ability to conduct continuously and simultaneously operations throughout its area of ??action, which extends over the G5 Sahel countries. It's about a an area as vast as Europe: the distance between Niamey and N'Djamena is equivalent to the distance between Brest and Copenhagen.
Operation Barkhane is the successor to Operation Serval that started in January 2013, and the Operation Epervier that had been active in Chad since 1986. Around 3,000 soldiers were deployed to four bases in five different countries: headquarters and air force in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena under the leadership of French Général Palasset; a regional base in Gao, north Mali, with at least 1,000 men; a special-forces base in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou; an intelligence base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with over 300 men; the air base of Niamey, with drones for gathering intelligence across the entire Sahel-Saharan region.
Since these two ground control points, detachments are deployed on advanced temporary bases (BAT). The air assets’ employment – except the detachments of the Army light aviation (ALAT) and the Special Forces airplanes – is planned from Lyon by the JFACC AFCO (Joint Force Air Component Command for the Centre and the West of Africa).
Gathered since February 2014 into an institutional frame called “G5 Sahel”, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso have decided to face the security challenges and the cross-border terrorist threat in coordination with the French troops and their support.
The operation is characterized by a logic of pooling and sharing of the means that used to be devoted to distinct operations (Serval in Mali, launched in 2013 and Epervier in Chad, launched in 1986). The presence of the French forces is maintained in Mali as well as in Chad, but from now on, the assets in these countries are shared and the areas of operations are extended to the whole Sahel-Saharan strip.
Operation Barkhane is based on a partnership approach with the main countries of the Sahelo-Saharan band (BSS). It aims primarily to promote country ownershipG5 Sahel partners in the fight against terrorist armed groups (GAT), on the entire Sahelo-Saharan band (BSS). This partnership logic structures Barkhane's relations with the others forces engaged in the stabilization process in Mali and the Liptako-Gourma ("Three Borders" zone): MINUSMA, EUTM Mali and the Armed Forces countries concerned.
The G5 Sahel brings together five countries of the Sahel-Saharan Africa : Burkina-Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. Created in February 2014 at the initiative of the Heads of State of theregion, the G5 Sahel is an institutional framework for monitoring regional cooperation, aimed atcoordinate the development and security policies of its members.
In February 2017 the G5 countries announced the creation of a G5 Sahel joint forceagainst terrorism. July 2, 2017 in Bamako, on the occasion of a G5 Sahel summit realized in the presence of the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, the chiefs of Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali and Burkina Faso formally announced its establishment. This force, which completed its first operation in November 2017 and will be 5,000 men is responsible for combating terrorism andcriminal organizations.
The integrated multidimensional United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Mali (MINUSMA) established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2100 on 25 April 2013, is a major player in the resolution of the conflict in northern Mali. It is for France a privileged partner. The military component of MINUSMA is structured around a staff based at Bamako and about twenty units deployed in Mali. About twenty French are inserted in this staff and in the staffs of sectors in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. The Chief of Staff of MINUSMA is occupied by a Frenchman.
The European Training Mission of the Malian Army (EUTM Mali) was launched on 18 February 2013, following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2085. It is part of the overall approach of the European Union to strengthen security in Mali and the Sahel. It has a staff of about 600 from around 20 Member States, including a dozen French soldiers.
Operation Barkhane is the most important French deployment in external operations. Since 2014, more than 1,000 operations and patrols have been carried out throughout the Sahelo-Saharan strip. France’s commitment is to enable partner States to acquire the capacity to ensure their security autonomously. To this end, Barkhane’s support for the actions of partner forces in the fight against terrorism is accompanied by joint operations and training activities with these forces.
France's strategy in the Sahel is based on a global approach, of which Barkhane is the military component. This global approach combines defense, development and diplomacy, and requires solid coordination between the various French players.
On 03 February 2019, French jets attacked a convoy of heavily armed pickup trucks that had entered Chad from neighboring Libya. The strikes lasted four days. When French fighter jets bombarded 40 pickup trucks of suspected insurgents in Chad, the former colonial power signaled an unprecedented willingness to engage openly in joint military operations in Northern Africa.
Chadian opposition leaders questioned whether the airstrikes were intended to fight terrorism or prop up President Idriss Déby, who has led Chad for nearly 30 years. “The French launched the airstrikes themselves, and they did not even try to make it seem as if they were not interfering with Chadian politics,” said Marielle Debos, an associate professor at Paris Nanterre University. Debos, who has researched the country for more than a decade, said in the past the French army’s support has been more discreet.
France said it had responded to a request for assistance from the Chadian government, calling the country an essential partner in the fight against terrorism. Chadian officials said the attacks were legal and necessary to prevent terrorist activity.
France’s interests in the region are primarily economic. Their military actions protect their access to oil and uranium in the region – all of which are required to sustain the demands of consumerism. French energy giants like Total control many of the downstream oil distribution networks in Mali, which arise in the Taoudeni Basin, a massive oilfield that stretches 1,000 km (600 miles) from Mauritania across Mali and into Algeria.
An incredible 75 percent of France's electric power is generated by nuclear plants that are mostly fuelled by uranium extracted on Mali's border region of Kidal – a region beset with violence between French-backed troops and forces of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer, and there are several multinational mining companies, including Randgold (UK), AngloGold Ashanti (South Africa), B2Gold (Canada) and Resolute Mining (Australia), that have huge operations there.
Researcher Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, author of the book "A lost war. France in the Sahel", believes that "Operation" Barkhane "prolongs the life of corrupt regimes". For Marc-Antoine de Montclos there is immediately a risk of returning to the heyday of Françafrique, a risk of sinking, an extreme danger for a former colonial power to replace the state and the army. He told Le Monde "France kicked the anthill of jihadist groups. The result is that they dispersed and then emerged in areas where they were not before, such as northern Burkina Faso or Macina, in central Mali. We therefore observe rather an extension of the phenomenon. And these groups, which were fragmented and did not necessarily get along, regrouped, with now a common enemy: France. The foreign military presence gives them legitimacy.... . To win an asymmetrical war against an invisible enemy, you need the support of the people. This is impossible to obtain if, in the name of the fight against terrorism, the abuses committed by the African soldiers are allowed to pass.... With this insurance policy offered to them by the French army, all these plans have no incentive to reform."
“The presidents of the G5 Sahel countries have a dilemma,” noted Pérouse de Montclos. “On one side, they need a French military presence – also against their own security forces to prevent coups and mutinies. But at the same time, they can’t say that publicly because it’s a humiliation, a shame for Africans that so many decades after independence, they still need the French army to stabilise their own countries.”
France will deploy 600 more soldiers in the fight against Islamists militants in Africa’s Sahel, south of the Sahara, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on 02 February 2020. The reinforcements would mostly be sent to the area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Parly said in a statement. Another part would join the G5 Sahel forces. Parly added that Chad “should soon deploy an additional battalion” within the joint force of the G5 Sahel, which brings together Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in the three borders zone. It’s the epicenter of the fight against jihadist groups, including the Islamic State group in the Grand Sahara (ISIS-GS). “The reinforcement ... should allow us to increase the pressure against the ISIS-GS... We will leave no space for those who want to destabilise the Sahel,” she added.
France already had 4,500 soldiers stationed in the Europe-sized region as part of Operation Barkhane, supporting poorly-equipped, impoverished local armies that in 2017 launched a joint anti-jihadist G5 Sahel force. Despite the French presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force dubbed MINUSMA in Mali, the conflict that erupted in the north of that country in 2012 had since spread to its neighbors, especially Burkina Faso and Niger.
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