14 July 2014

West Africa: France Launches New Sahel Anti-Terrorism Operation

Photo: IRIN/Phuong Tran
Des rebelles touaregs dans le désert du Sahara

Known as 'Operation Barkhan,' its headquarters will be based in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena.

France has announced the end of its military operations in northern Mali to contain the activities of terrorists, replacing them with a region-wide counter-terrorism action, agency reports said. Speaking in the French capital, Paris, on July 13, 2014, President François Hollande, said 'Operation Serval,' which was launched in January 2013 to stop Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg rebels from advancing on the Malian capital, Bamako, had been "perfectly accomplished."

Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, explained that concern had now shifted to the vast Sahel region on the southern end of the Sahara Desert where stability is threatened by Islamist violence. He assured that the new 'Operation Barkhan' would "make sure that there is no upsurge in terrorism." The aim is to prevent the Sahel becoming a regrouping ground for jihadist groups from Libya to the Atlantic Ocean, Le Drian pointed out.

The new counter-terrorism operation will kick off in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries - Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, Le Drian said. He added that 3,000 French soldiers would be part of the operation, 1,000 of whom would remain in northern Mali while the rest would be deployed in other countries. Drones, helicopters, fighter jets, armoured vehicles and transport planes, will also take part in the operation whose headquarters will be based in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena.

The UN Security Council last December described the security situation in Africa's Sahel region as "alarming." It urged countries in the region to better cooperate in fighting terrorist groups and transnational crimes like drug trafficking that increasingly fund them. Romano Prodi, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Sahel, also pointed out that Libya's precarious security situation since the overthrow of late Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has had its effect on the region.

In a report on West Africa at large, the UN Scribe warned of coming developments in the region's politics and security that include presidential elections in at least eight countries between 2014 and 2016 and a significant reduction in some United Nations peace missions in the region.

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