France Said to Be Mulling Sahel Troop Reduction
By Nicolas Pinault February 04, 2021
Observers say France is considering downsizing its military presence as the security situation stabilizes in Africa's Sahel region. French troops and African nations have been fighting together against extremist groups there. The size of the French contingent may soon drastically change.
In his annual New Year's wishes to the military a few weeks ago, President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that France could "adjust" its forces in the Sahel, pointing to a possible reduction in the size of the so-called Barkhane Force.
French soldiers have been fighting extremist groups for years along with soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad.
In 2020, the former colonial power boosted its troop presence by 600, bringing the total to 5,100 soldiers to counter extremists. After major successes with the killing of top jihadists commanders, France wants to withdraw the 600 temporary reinforcements and return the number of troops remaining to 4,500.
General Dominique Trinquand, former head of the French military mission with the United Nations, said the additional 600 French troops that were deployed a year ago would probably return to France as they completed their mission to degrade the enemy and its capacities in the three-border zone (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso).
Trinquand thinks the move should not have a negative impact on the ground. However, he is concerned about the ability of the African troops and the European reinforcements to compensate for the departure.
Concern is growing among the public as a recent opinion poll showed, for the first time, that the majority of French people oppose the operation in the Sahel. More than 50 French soldiers have been killed since 2013 while fighting extremist in the region. And the threat has expanded tremendously beyond Mali.
At a rare public appearance this week, Bernard Emie, director-general of France's external intelligence service, commented openly on the current security situation in West Africa, warning of the extremists' ability to expand their network to other countries in the region.
Emie explained that most current jihadist leaders in the Sahel are not Malian but foreigners who are already expanding their network by financing men in Ivory Coast or Benin. Emie said that fighters are already operating and killing in Nigeria, Niger or Chad on behalf of the terrorist group Boko Haram.
A summit among France and the G5 Sahel countries is scheduled for February 15 and 16 in N'Djamena, Chad. Due to the COVID pandemic, some heads of state might join the meeting via videoconference.
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