Last Friday, January 8, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Burkina Faso, where he met the recently re-elected President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. After a one-hour hearing, French Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian indicated France's wish to continue supporting Burkina Faso in its economic and social development policy and in the security sector.
As regards cooperation, France has significantly increased humanitarian and financial aid to Burkina Faso. In 2020, aid amounted to more than 10 million euros, according to Le Drian. Bilateral aid has tripled from 2 million euros to 6 million euros from 2019 to 2020. The French country has also financed 4 million euros from the World Food Programme in Burkina Faso and 7 million for the programme to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
As for security, during the press conference following the hearing, the French minister and the president of Burkina Faso stressed the importance of cooperation within the G5 Sahel, one year after the Pau Summit, at which France increased the number of troops from 4,500 to 5,100, focusing this effort on the area of the three borders (Liptako Gourma). The Jihadist groups in the area take advantage of the permeability of the borders to carry out attacks along the border regions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Ansaroul Islam, the jihadist group from Burkina Faso, operates in the border region with Mali. An Islamic state of the Greater Sahara, it operates mainly in the border region between Niger and Mali, although there have also been incidents in the regions closest to Burkina Faso. The JNIM group, which is linked to AQIM, carries out attacks throughout Malian territory, with a high incidence of attacks in the area of central Mali along the borders of Niger and Burkina Faso. In this connection, Le Drian pointed out how satisfactory results have been achieved in combating terrorism since the Pau Summit, particularly in the three-frontier region.
The G5 Sahel is composed of seven battalions of about 5,000 men from five Sahelian countries: Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad, Mali and Niger. This initiative is structured on four pillars: one related to the strategic and military plan; a second to train the Sahel armed forces; the third to return the state to certain areas controlled by armed groups; and a last one devoted to development. In short, the G5 Sahel aims to provide the aforementioned countries with the capabilities and training to enable them to address their own security needs. Interoperability and coordination between forces is vital in order for them to be able to respond appropriately to the region's cross-border threats.
Three years after the creation of the G5 Sahel, the summit will be held next month in N'Djamena to assess progress in the fight against terrorism. This summit will not only decide the future of the G5 Sahel, but also take decisions related to the French Barkhane operation. On January 4 French defence minister Florence Parly announced her intention to reduce the number of French troops on the ground in an interview with the French newspaper LeParisien. She explained how the reinforcement of the 600 men following the Pau Summit was temporary and, following major military victories such as the neutralisation of JNIM's military chief, Bah Ag Moussa, it may be time to adjust the number of troops on the ground. However, this announcement has coincided with the death of five French soldiers in the three-frontier zone in late December and early January, and it is therefore clear that the decision of the French defence ministry has also been related to these successive casualties. More details on this issue will be made known after the summit in Chad. Barkhane's reduction of forces could be accompanied by an increase in the G5 Sahel forces.