Should operations in the Sahel zone continue?
French President Macron has announced at the G5 Sahel summit that the EU-backed Operation Barkhane will continue in the Sahel, although the number of French troops in the region will be reduced this autumn. The military operation has been running in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger since 2014, with the aim of fighting Islamist terror. Commentators take very different views of what it has achieved.
Stability in Africa linked to stability in Europe
A withdrawal could have disastrous consequences, warns The Times:
“He should stay put. And Britain, which is making a modest but useful contribution to a United Nations mission in Mali, should stay too. Mali and its neighbours make up a belt of fragile states. They are on one of the main migration routes to Europe which run through Niger. Terror groups, people smugglers and criminal gangs move freely through lawless space. ... Mr Macron has served notice to the regional alliance of Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania that he wants to withdraw some 600 out of the 5,100 French troops in the Sahel. It is peremptory. There is a direct link between the stability of this part of Africa and that of Europe.”
France's presence is part of the problem
France's military mission in the Sahel is counterproductive, the NGO Survie, which opposes French intervention in Africa, argues in Mediapart:
“It is a paradox to demand the strengthening of African states and to stress that a political solution is needed while at the same time continuing to exert pressure so that security remains the sole priority. The French military presence in effect releases African states from the responsibility of having to tackle fundamental problems themselves. ... France is opting to rely on authoritarian and corrupt regimes to wage its 'war on terror', and in so doing reinforcing resentment among the population from which only the jihadists benefit. It's time to stress that France's military intervention in the Sahel is part of the problem, not of the solution.”
Macron must face up to a debate
In view of the bitter experiences of the past eight years, Le Monde calls for a public discussion of France's military missions abroad:
“Up to now none of the terrorist attacks in France or on its neighbours have been attributed to events in the Sahel. Although desirable, a handover to less professional local armies is only a medium-term solution. The same goes for the reconstruction of states that are able to meet the vital needs of their populations. ... The French and African public are increasingly reluctant to extend Operation Barkhane, and the time has come for clear decisions. The end of Macron's current term and the upcoming presidential elections will provide a good opportunity for a debate on the deployment of French soldiers abroad.”