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Context: French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of the decade-long Operation Barkhane in Africa. Mr. Macron said that, “Our military support for African countries will continue, but according to new principles that we have defined with them.”
What is Operation Barkhane?
- France began its military operations in Sahel in January 2013.
- Titled Operation Serval, it was limited to targeting Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda who took control of northern Mali.
- However, in 2014, the mission was scaled up, renamed Operation Barkhane and was aimed at counter-terrorism.
- The objective was to assist local armed forces to prevent the resurgence of non-state armed groups across the Sahel region.
- Around 4,500 French personnel were deployed with the local joint counter-terrorism force.
Has France achieved its objectives?
- French operations had two objectives in the Sahel.
- First, to liberate Mali from the insurgency in the north and second, to see through counter-terrorism operations in West Africa, including the neutralisation of key terrorists.
- However, Operation Barkhane saw a series of failures.
- First the region, despite the operation, witnessed the growth of new groups affiliated to terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State.
- Second, the failure of the operation led to a humanitarian crisis. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the violence had claimed 5,450 lives across Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in just the first half of 2022, recording a significant increase from the previous years. Further, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies recorded 2,005 incidents of Islamist violence in the Sahel in 2021, compared to the 1,180 incidents in the previous year.
- Third, Operation Barkhane’s unfulfilled objective to resolve the region’s insurgencies sparked an increase in civilian support to the military and has contributed to the subsequent political uncertainties in the Sahel.
What are reasons for pull out?
- First, France’s relations with the military rulers grew hostile after a series of coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
- Relations between France and Mali soured after the latter expelled the French ambassador when he disagreed with the junta's decision to remain in power until 2025.
- In addition, France was contemptuous about Malian authorities negotiating a peace deal with insurgent groups.
- Secondly, since Operation Barkhane was widely perceived as a failure, anti-French sentiments and questions over France’s intentions flared up, with a further demand for France’s withdrawal from the region.
- Finally, France, and other Western countries claim that the Wagner Group, a private military company close to the Kremlin, is playing a major role in fuelling the insurgency and discrediting French withdrawal. For Africa, the Wagner Group is an alternative that engages with military governments, without abiding to human rights and democratic standards.