Baba’s Explainer – Operation Barkhane: France’s military operations in Sahel

  • IASbaba
  • November 18, 2022
  • 0
International Relations
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  • GS-1: Modern World History
  • GS-2: International Affairs
  • GS-2: Democratic & military rule; Human Rights

Context: On November 9, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of the decade-long Operation Barkhane in Africa.

  • France President Mr. Macron said that, “Our military support for African countries will continue, but according to new principles that France have define with them.”

What is Sahel Region?
  • The Sahel is the ecoclimatic and biogeographic realm of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian savanna to the south.
  • Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the south-central latitudes of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.
  • The name is derived from the Arabic term for “coast, shore”; this is explained as being used in a figurative sense in reference to the southern edge of the vast Sahara.
  • The Sahel part includes from west to east parts of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, Niger, the extreme north of Nigeria, the extreme north of Cameroon and the Central African Republic, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, the extreme north of South Sudan, Eritrea and the extreme north of Ethiopia.
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?
  • France has a mixed record in achieving its military objectives, with failures more evident than the successes.
  • French operations had two objectives in the Sahel.
    • First, to liberate Mali from the insurgency in the north
    • Second, to see through counter-terrorism operations in West Africa, including the neutralisation of key terrorists.
  • In its major successes, France regained Mali’s northern regions from the extremists in 2014 through Operation Serval.
    • In 2020, Abdel Malek Droukdel and Bah Ag Moussa, key leaders of al-Qaeda in this region were killed in French-led operations.
  • The 2014 success led to the inception of Operation Barkhane aimed at counter-terrorism in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad. 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.
    • It is estimated that 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, nearly 2,000 incidents of Islamist violence were recorded 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.
Why did France 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 Military’s decision to remain in power until 2025. In addition, France was unhappy about Malian authorities negotiating a peace deal with insurgent groups.
  • Secondly, since Operation Barkhane was widely perceived as a failure, anti-French sentiments 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 Russia, 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.
What next for France-Africa relations?
  • First, France’s relations with Africa are undergoing an unprecedented transition under present President Mr. Macron. The end of Operation Barkhane signifies France’s acknowledgement that it did not achieve their intended objectives. The French decision is unlikely to improve Africa’s security situation and may lead to the assumption that Paris abandoned the continent.
  • Second, France has indicated a willingness to restructure its approach to Africa. However, if France aims to address its anti-French sentiment, then Paris needs to look beyond military operations and needs to engage with the political leadership, push for dialogue and understand the complex dynamics of the actors in the conflict.
  • Third, for the African leadership, particularly authoritarian and military leaders, partnering with Russia is easier. Therefore, to remain an important external partner, Paris has to fasten restructuring its Africa policy.
Do you know about Great Green Wall of Africa?
  • Though unrelated to the issue that is discussed above, the initiative aims to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions, the Sahel.
  • The African initiative is still only 15% complete.
  • Once fully completed, the Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet – an 8,000 km natural wonder of the world stretching across the entire width of the continent.
  • African countries during the UNCCCD COP14 sought global support in terms of finance to make the Wall a reality in the continent’s Sahel region by 2030.

Main Practice Question: What was the nature of France’s security involvement in Africa? What has Paris achieved so far and did it outweigh the failures?

Note: Write answer his question in the comment section.

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