Meeting in Pau, the G5 Sahel sets a new framework for the “Barkhane” operation
From our special envoy to Pau
The summit on the Sahel convened on Monday by Emmanuel Macron at the foot of the Pyrenees been brief, but not unimportant. In Pau, the French president and the five G5 heads of state (Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Chad, Mauritania) came to display a union that recent criticisms of Barkhane had started. A joint declaration, which was lengthily negotiated, enabled France to obtain the requested “clarification”.
In a joint declaration, the African presidents “expressed their wish the continuation of France's military engagement in the Sahel “, before pleading for ” a strengthening of the international presence “. “It is symbolic, but it matters. We could not tolerate that these untruths and these fantasies about the presence of French armies in the Sahel remain unanswered “, assures a diplomat.
»SEE ALSO – G5 Sahel Summit: Macron announces the dispatch of 200 additional French soldiers
“The meeting in Pau marks a profound turning point by redefining the terms of our commitment”, welcomed Emmanuel Macron, announcing additional capabilities for Barkhane's 220 men. The meeting, centered around a long closed-door session between the six presidents, however, was not content with trying, no doubt a little in vain, to stem the diatribes against the former colonial power. The substance, the military and the political aspect, of the conflict was tackled with the creation of a new framework, the “Sahel coalition”. This coalition will bring together the armies of the G5, Barkhane and future partners with “joint command”.
The Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS) has gangrened the north of Burkina Faso and the west of Niger, as has the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), linked to al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb
A relaunch of Operation Barkhane was made necessary by the worsening situation on the ground. The 4500 men who make up Barkhane are certainly not in danger. But the jihadists have clearly extended their field of action. The Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS) has plagued northern Burkina Faso and western Niger, as has the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
To counter these inclinations, the Heads of State announced in Pau a refocusing of Barkhane and the reconcentration “of operational efforts” in the Liptako and Gourma, an area straddling the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina, where the attacks of both EIGS and GSMI are concentrated. “We were on too large regions to be able to display victories” , insists a French source. The device must be muscled by a Chadian contingent in an overhaul of the G5 military force, a force announced for two years but still not able to act. This redeployment must be accompanied, for central Mali, another center of the Islamist insurgency, by a rise in strength of the UN troops and in the north, particularly in Kidal, by a return of the Malian army . Expected for years, this return has so far remained wishful thinking.
In an attempt to avoid further delays, a precise timetable has been developed, with objectives and “crossing points”. “A very realistic roadmap” , assures a Malian leader. This calendar affects less the military, an area that is difficult to predict, than development, with a call to give concrete form to the pledges made in Brussels in December 2018, and above all the politician. “We will need political courage and not only in Mali” , we slipped at the Élysée before the start of the talks.
L The objective of this “clarification” is also to make this distant and fuzzy war more acceptable for the Europeans and to obtain their real participation in the new “Sahel coalition”. For months, to break its isolation in the Sahel, France has been trying to attract EU armies there. The Takouba Task Force should, in principle, allow a few hundred special forces men from European countries to get involved with Barkhane. A dozen member states are said to be on the point of making a commitment. A conference must be held to “list the contributions acquired.”
Right at the top , the American army has confirmed that it wishes to “reduce its presence” in Africa
In the meantime, all of December , Barkhane accelerated the pace of his interventions. But these victories have been overshadowed in recent days By a series of bad news.
First, Monday, at the height of the summit, the American army confirmed that it wanted “Reduce its presence” in Africa. Now, by the admission of Paris, the American presence in the Sahel is “crucial”, because it offers “critical and non-substitutable capacities”, including information. The presidents expressed “their gratitude for the support of the United States” and expressed “the wish for its continuity”. Then, the impact of the attack last Thursday on a Nigerien military camp very close to Mali was felt. The balance sheet, 89 dead, shows that the Sahelian forces remain too exposed and too brittle. And the acceleration of the crisis in Libya in recent weeks, which, according to G5 presidents, “is fueling instability in the Sahel”, adds to concerns.