France to withdraw over 2,000 troops from Africa's Sahel
French President Emmanuel Macron says his country will withdraw more than 2,000 troops from West Africa’s Sahel region in the coming months.
During the past years, the former colonial power has maintained military intervention in the volatile area under the pretext of fighting terrorism, but has failed in its purported mission.
After talks in a virtual summit with the leaders of five West African nations at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on Friday, Macron said France will pull out over 2,000 troops from its Barkhane force in Africa’s Sahel region by early next year and instead pivot its military presence to specialized regional forces.
The French Barkhane force, operating in Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, currently has 5,000 troops in the region.
Macron said France would focus over the next six months on dismantling the Barkhane operation, closing bases in Sahel's north and reorganizing troops in the south of the region.
“France will first move its troops further south and then later start reducing their presence to around half the current level of some 5,100 soldiers,” he said.
Macron also repeated claims that France’s military presence in the future will focus on neutralizing extremist operations and strengthening and training local armies.
Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum told a news conference after the Friday’s summit that he supported the French troop reduction, amid widespread criticism that the security situation in the region has worsened despite the French military presence.
The French president announced last month that his country was ending its Barkhane mission eight years after it first intervened in the Sahel and would operate within a broader international alliance.
The announcement came as leaders of countries in West Africa’s Sahel region have abandoned their hopes in purported counter-terrorism efforts by France and started negotiating with armed militants to bring peace to the restive region.
The Sahel, a semi-arid stretch of land south of the Sahara desert, has been in turmoil since 2012, when a number of armed separatists started targeting the local population in Mali.
As a former colonial power seeking significant military presence in Africa, France decided to send thousands of soldiers in 2013 to try to prevent separatist forces from reaching Mali’s capital, Bamako.
Last year, France boosted its troop numbers for its so-called Operation Barkhane in the Sahel by 600 to 5,100 soldiers, but with the military presence failing to bring the situation under control, the UN also deployed its peacekeeping forces in the region.
Terrorist groups, linked to al-Qaeda and Daesh, have strengthened their foothold across the arid Sahel region, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking local ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
The terrorist outfits have used central and northern Mali as a launch pad for growing numbers of attacks across the Sahel region, especially on neighbors Niger and Burkina Faso, despite the presence of French troops.
The presence of terrorist groups in Africa has been an
excuse for global powers to re-enter these countries. This was seen in the
French military intervention in Mali and the US military campaign in Somalia.