June 16, 2021

The highly uncertain outcome of eight years of war in the Sahel

More than eight years have passed since January 11, 2013 and the announcement by France of its entry into the war in Mali, “At the request of the authorities” local. The objectives of the intervention were then based, according to François Hollande, on a simple triptych: to put a stop to the jihadist groups which control the north of the country and “Threaten”, since taking the town of Konna a day earlier, to melt south, “To secure Bamako, where we have several thousand nationals” and “Allow Mali to recover its territorial integrity”.

Eight years later, while Emmanuel Macron announced, Thursday, June 10, “The end of the operation” Barkhane “” and an “Profound transformation of our military presence” in the region, the exact details of which must be specified before the end of the month, the war goals are far from being achieved.

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Once the initial glamor of a short-lived intervention dissipated – in the early days some leaders confidently predicted that this would be “Completed no later than April [2013] » – Operation “Serval” became “Barkhane” in August 2014. The mission was then extended to five countries – Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad – and the numbers gradually increased from 3,000 to more than 5 000 soldiers. But for what results?

Jihadist presence extended to neighboring countries

The groups, affiliated with Al-Qaida or, since 2016, with the Islamic State organization, are no longer in a position to conquer Bamako militarily, if they ever have been, but, a perverse effect of the military pressure exerted on them , their presence has extended well beyond the desert confines of northern Mali. Rural areas of Burkina Faso or western Niger now live largely under their control. The north of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and eastern Senegal are today in their sights.

“The jihadists first looked for fallback areas which then became points of support. In fact, we hit on a bubble of mercury which dispersed in multiple small balls which did not stop growing. », Explains an observer from the region. The metropolises of the West African coast now know they are under the latent threat of an attack.

The “neutralization”, according to the terminology in force, of the historical leaders from the Algerian maquis, also had the effect of promoting personalities from the region, making it possible to place the global struggle of the two central organizations a little more in logic of local insurgencies. Since 2017, the two major figures of jihad in the Sahel are Iyad Ag Ghali and Amadou Koufa, two Malians whose stories and speeches resonate with some of their fellow citizens. Paris has made them the priority targets of Operation “Saber”, led by Special Forces in parallel with “Barkhane”. In vain so far. The strategy of eliminating the jihadist leaders has produced no improvement in security on the ground.

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