France to deploy 600 more troops to Sahel

On Sunday, Feb.2, French Defense Minister Florence Parly has confirmed what Gen. François Lecointre, Chief of General Staff (CEMA), had already announced on Jan.22: on top of the 220 troops already sent recently, France will deploy 600 more soldiers in the fight against Islamists militants in Africa’s Sahel, south of the Sahara.

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Equipped with an HK 416 rifle, F3 combat gear and SMB/E ballistic modular structure, the army's "Combatant 2020" is now a player in the Sahel-Saharan theatre. The vest was used during the Barkhane force operation in Liptako (Picture source: French MoD)

In addition to the dispatch announced by President Emmanuel Macron at the beginning of January of 220 soldiers who were on a short-term mission in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), France is planning "the commitment of additional resources, the profile and composition of which I will present to the President of the Republic" General Lecointre said. These new reinforcements will be accompanied by additional logistical and intelligence resources. “We are going to step up our efforts in the Liptako-Gourma area, in the area of the three borders [between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger], by concentrating additional resources there," François Lecointre added. "Today, in this extremely vast area, the resources made available to Operation Barkhane are not sufficient to have soldiers deployed 24/, H24.

Before the announcement of the first reinforcements by the French Head of State at the Pau summit at the beginning of January, the Barkhane force numbered some 4,500 soldiers in the Sahel. "But 4,500 men in the Sahel, that's ridiculous!" said General Lecointre last November at a hearing at the National Assembly, the report of which was published only this week. "Once the elements of logistics and support, the capacity of protection of our land (...) are subtracted, I find myself with a maximum of 2,000 men," he stressed.

The joint force of the G5 Sahel (Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad) will also focus its efforts on this area of the three borders, sanctuary of the Islamic State Group in the Great Sahara (EIGS) where the deadly attacks of jihadists in recent months have been concentrated, the French chief of staff recalled Wednesday.

Finally, "we wish to engage the Europeans" via a special forces group called Takuba, intended to accompany local forces in combat. This force, which will be deployed this summer, will be "fully operational from the autumn", he said. On a tactical level, this is what gives us hope that we will be able to achieve a switchover", he stressed, while referring to "a long commitment in any case". I don't think, despite this shift, that we will be able to claim victory at the end of the year. We hope that this tactical effort will be put to good use by the political authorities of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso," he reiterated. "An important part of the solution is in their hands.

General Lecointre also deplored the inertia of the European Mission for the Training of the Malian Army (EUTM Mali), launched in February 2013, which brings together 620 soldiers from 28 European countries: "I find Europe a little slow to get going. It is now seven months since I wrote to the European Union asking for EUTM (...) to deploy more and to do a more comprehensive job of accompanying the reconstruction of these armies and not just training," he said. All this is a long process. We should act very quickly".

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Operation Barkhane, conducted by the French armed forces in partnership with the G5 Sahel countries, was launched on 1 August 2014. It is based on a strategic approach based on a logic of partnership with the main countries of the Sahel-Saharan strip (BSS): Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina-Faso. It brings together some 4,500 military personnel whose mission is to combat armed terrorist groups and support the armed forces of partner countries so that they can take this threat into account (Map source: Twitter)