At a common summit in Pau, France France President Emmanuel Macron and his counterparts from the so-called G5 Sahel group of several African countries have agreed on a "coalition for the Sahel region". The participating countries announced this in a joint statement.
With this, the heads of state of the former French colonies mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad expressly spoke out for France's continued military engagement in the area. France has been active in the area with 4,500 soldiers against numerous terrorist groups since 2014. Now Macron wants to send another 220 soldiers, focusing on the particularly dangerous border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The goal is "the return of the state to all regions," said Macron.
Macron also wants to win European partners
The military use of France under the name "Operation Barkhane" is controversial on the ground. Residents accused the French troops of failing to stabilize the region and there were protests in Mali against the presence of European soldiers. Macron, too, had publicly questioned the operation after the death of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash in November. In retrospect, however, he assured that France would continue to fight the jihadist terrorists.
The summit was originally scheduled to take place in December, but was postponed due to a terrorist attack in Niger. According to the government, 89 soldiers died. None of the terrorist militias operating on site has committed to the attack, a group allied with the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) is suspected. This is said to have previously carried out an attack on a village in which 71 people died.
In addition to improved cooperation with the countries of the Sahel region, which cuts across the African continent along the southern border of the Sahara, Macron also wants to win European partners for the operation. However, this could be difficult: Germany has already twice refused requests to participate in the deployment of European special forces in Mali. The USA also want a report from New York Times according to their special units deployed in West Africa reduce or withdraw. Only Estonia, Belgium, Denmark and the Czech Republic are said to be the French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné have signaled readiness.
The number of terrorist attacks doubles every year
A number of armed groups are active in the countries of the Sahel, some of which are affiliated with IS or Al Qaeda. Niger, Mali and Niger have been particularly affected by attacks in recent months Burkina Faso, Despite the military presence, the situation has recently worsened: According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies think tank, the number of attacks by extremists has doubled every year since 2015, in 2019 the number was 700.
The terrorist groups use regional ethnic tensions for their attacks, which they exploit for their cause. They also benefit from the poverty of the Sahel states, which are among the poorest in the world and, in addition to high population growth, can only provide poor access to education and health facilities. Outside the cities, governments have little control over the territory, so that jihadists and criminal networks such as people smugglers are also active there.
The UN mission to stabilize Mali, which has been running since 2013, is also largely ineffective. Germany is also involved in it and a European training mission with 1,100 soldiers. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer pleaded in December for a "more robust training mandate", which should also include counter-terrorism operations. The Bundeswehr has so far not been involved in such in Mali. However, the SPD rejects an expansion of the Bundeswehr mandate.