As terrorism increases in the region, strategies need to be adapted

Sahel: the same goal, a different strategy

photo_camera AFP/ MICHELE CATTANI - French army soldiers patrol a rural area during operation Barkhane in northern Burkina Faso on 9 November 2019

The recent success of operations against Jihadism in the Sahel by French troops, particularly in the so-called three-frontier zone, does not conceal a reality: obvious signs of exhaustion exist. Not only from a national and political point of view, in Mali in particular, but for the European country itself. The cost of Operation Barkhane is around one billion euros per year to maintain a military presence that is beginning to approach the end of the decade and has left half a hundred casualties in the French ranks. In both respects this is a record figure for France since the 1960s. Furthermore, for the Malian individual, whose political instability does not stem exclusively from the almost chronic violence in some of its territories, the French presence is beginning to have negative repercussions on a large percentage of the population, leading to greater social and political opposition. 

Soldados franceses

Mali has already taken certain steps to define its own way of interacting with the terrorist groups in the region, showing a clear willingness to dialogue. Both the executive of deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Ke茂ta and the one recently formed following this summer's coup d'茅tat are exploring possible negotiations with certain groups or actors within the networks comprising both Daesh's and al-Qaeda's subsidiaries in the Sahel. Without going any further, the liberation of several hostages in exchange for nearly two hundred Jihadists initiated by the Malian government has not been too celebrated, nor seen as a notable diplomatic success in Paris. A lower than usual profile for a president like Emmanuel Macron and a country like France suggests a certain tension and discrepancy in the forms and the cost of the release. Something which, of course, has not been verbalized by French diplomacy.

cooperante Sohpie Petronin

Neither a military presence nor negotiations with Jihadist groups will bring a definitive or immediate solution to the crisis which this African region has been experiencing for years. The first one is a consequence of the existence of these terrorist groups with which negotiations are sought, a terrorism which, in turn, derives from the lack of good governance and state presence in the whole territory, also from ethnic friction, lack of development and opportunities, etc. Therefore, the only lasting solution is to tackle these problems at their roots and allow external actors to play an increasingly important role in these solutions. This involves a shift from quasi-guardianship-even quasi-replacement in the military sphere by France-to support from those who have the capabilities and means to do so, that is, actors such as the European Union.  

Stephen McGown liberado

France has been working along these lines for some time and is seeking to attract European partners to become militarily involved in the region by sharing the burden which Paris currently bears almost exclusively. This is the aim of Task Force Takuba, by gradually adding countries, not only to provide political support for the operation-something that Spain has not even done-but also to send troops. According to French Defence Minister Florence Parly, Portugal and Italy would be the last to join others such as Sweden, the Czech Republic and Estonia. A hybrid, in the words of the former French officer Michel Goya, between the end of the French presence and the current role played by Operation Barkhane. New platforms such as the Sahel Alliance, which seeks to channel development investments in the region, can also be placed in this framework.

Programa de entrenamiento

The European Union, in turn, also understands that good governance is the fundamental pillar for ensuring that all investments in the Sahel, time, money and obviously human lives, make sense and bear fruit in the consolidation of the states in the region. Training efforts carried out by the EUTM-Mali or projects such as the GAR-SI Sahel, together with the military and security role that the G5 Sahel should be strengthening. It is obvious that terrorism continues to spread throughout the region, now also threatening coastal countries such as Ghana and C么te d'Ivoire, despite the many efforts made in the region. The goal remains the same, but the means used to achieve it, including Barkhane, may need to be reviewed.

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