“France is not leaving Mali,” said Florence Parly, France’s minister of the armed forces, after her meeting in Bamako with Colonel Sadio Camara, her Malian counterpart, on 20 September. The minister – who embarked on a mini-tour of the Sahel that also took her to Niger, a country that is set to become the cornerstone of French military strategy in the region when the ‘tactical redeployment’ of Operation Barkhane becomes fully effective – knows that the current situation is particularly tense.
Although information regarding the details of the ongoing operations is trickling out, the partial French withdrawal has already begun. Paris promises to remain present – but with reduced numbers – and continue its strategy of targeted strikes against jihadist leaders, such as the “neutralisation” of Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (ISGS). President Emmanuel Macron has also provided assurances that Barkhane will remain “the backbone” of the future mechanism.
Nevertheless, this strategic reorientation is worrying. In fact, some commentators have even drawn a parallel with the US’ disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, where the Taliban is back in business. While the French soldiers are packing their bags, the announcement that the Malian government and the Russian company Wagner have entered negotiations was a bombshell. The possible arrival of Russian mercenaries, who are already present in the CAR and Libya, has provoked an outcry from Paris and Brussels who feel that their presence is ‘incompatible’ with that of European troops.
But who exactly will be left on the ground by 2022? How strong are Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger’s armies? How many divisions can the G5 Sahel count on? In the ‘three borders’ zone, and more broadly in the Liptako, the Forces Armées Maliennes (FAMa) and the European task force Takuba were supposed to take over operations in the first half of 2021. Was this transfer effective? What about US support in terms of supplies, transport, training and intelligence, the details of which remain unclear? Finally, who would replace the Barkhane air force if its size were to be reduced?
We have mapped out all the forces present – national armies, the French military presence, the UN mission and the G5 Sahel – their means and objectives.
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