West Africa: Sahel - the Fight Against Terrorism, the Waste


A multitude of actors are fighting terrorism in the Sahel: the concerned countries armies with the help of civilian auxiliaries and international partners. From 2012 to now, the fighting has sometimes intensified, sometimes decreased and then turned into an implicit truce. Terrorist groups abounded and fought each other for supremacy on the ground. The hydra is still there, causing, among other things, human tragedies. Relations between partners - African and international governments - have deteriorated to the point of destroying coalitions and regional organizations. A feeling of waste and failure prevails.

At the request of the Malian Transition Authorities, France launched Operation Serval in January 2013, intended to stop the advance of terrorist groups who were heading towards Bamako in order to install an Islamic Regime. In addition, it assigned itself the tasks of helping Mali recover its territorial integrity and sovereignty, then enabling the rapid deployment of two complementary mechanisms: the International Support Mission for Mali (MISMA) and the Mali Training Mission, the Malian army of the European Union (EUTM). Temporarily defeated, these groups reorganized themselves and once again threatened the Mali central government.

Anti-terrorist Coalition.

A second French operation, Barkhane, was deployed in the Sahel in July 2014. The double military effort, named respectively after a Sahel wild animal and a moving sand dune, did not seem sufficient thus the G5 Sahel was created after the signing of an agreement in December 2014 in Nouakchott. This military organization brought together five countries, spreading over 5,097,338 km2: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. At the same time, MISMA was established on July 17, 2013. The following countries provided its troops: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Togo. Totaling six thousand (6,000), these soldiers were under the command of Nigerian general, Shehu Abdulkadir. MISMA was to help Mali rebuild its armed forces capacity, in order to allow the authorities to regain control of its northern territories, while protecting the civilian population. More specifically, it would help the Malian army to dislodge Islamist groups, namely and mostly AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine. These movements had taken control of the country north, after having driven out the Tuareg souverainists rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). The Mission is then led by the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for one year. On April 25, 2013, the Security Council established the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Mission will support the political process and carry out a number of security-related stabilization activities. It will pay particular attention to the main towns and communication routes. It will also protect civilians, monitor human rights, put in place the essential conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the return of displaced people, the extension of State authority and prepare free, inclusive and peaceful elections. A whole program.

Launched on August 1, 2014, the French operation, Barkhane, aims to fight armed jihadist groups throughout the Sahel. At the height of its intervention, it had up to 5,100 men. MINUSMA, deployed in June 2023 its 15,056 troupes with 11,676 soldiers, 1,588 police officers and 1,792 civilians. Created by European governments, on March 29, 2020, the Takuba Force deployed nearly 900 troupes in Mali, responsible for advising, assisting and training the Malian army. On February 18, 2013, the European Union launched the Malian Armed Forces Training Mission EUTM Mali, with 560 soldiers. In August 2012, it launched EUCAP Sahel Niger. In April 2014, it did the same with EUCAP Sahel Mali. Both missions helped strengthen the capabilities of the internal security forces in various areas. The US military played a crucial role in logistical support for Operation Barkhane. It has two bases in Niger - Niamey and Agadez - with, officially, a thousand soldiers. It notably hosts MQ-9 Reaper armed drones and C17 transport planes. With its 25 km2, it is the largest American base after Djibouti. The Americans also built another secret base, installed in the desert, in Dirkou, in the North, run by their Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, in order to be able to launch attacks against Islamist insurgents in Libya. At the end of 2016, Germany announced, the construction of a military base "for air transport in Niamey, in support of the MINUSMA mission in Mali". And that's not all. In June 2017, Italy was building its base, "to fight terrorism and drug trafficking and then migrant trafficking", in agreement with Paris and Washington.

Cascading military coups.

On the ground, results are slow to come, in the eyes of a section of the military hierarchy in these countries. In Mali, for example, a great deal of terrorist and "inter-ethnic" violence is deplored. The Malian army accuses France of supporting terrorists and preventing it from taking over the north they occupy. These misunderstandings caused a serious crisis between these two allies. In August 2020, this phenomenon, added to a period of post-electoral protest, led to a coup d'état against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. In neighboring Burkina Faso, Lieutenant-Colonel Sandaogo Paul-Henri Damiba also carried out a coup d'état on January 22, 2021. Denouncing the deterioration of the security situation and the inability of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré to unite the nation, he took power at the head of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration (MPSR I). In Mali, in May 2021, a second coup d'état took place, following ambiguities between protagonists of the Transitional government. Colonel Assimi Goita took power, openly.

In June 2021, France, feeling events slipping away from its hands, then considered reducing the scale of its military intervention in Mali. It pressed the colonels of Bamako to organize, as quickly as possible, elections with a view to returning power to civilians. In this regards, the former colonial power is in agreement with ECOWAS and the African Union. Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga interpreted that intention, to reduce France military presence, as "dropping in full flight an ally". These accusations, launched at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2021, were poorly appreciated in Paris. For the then Minister of Armed Forces, Florence Parly, they were "indecent and unacceptable". President Macron will speak of a "shame". The Malian authorities then began to look towards Russia, to "free themselves" from both Paris and inter-African authorities. The specter of recourse to the Russian paramilitary company, Wagner, will exacerbate the political-diplomatic war between Paris and Bamako. At the end of January 2022, the French ambassador to Mali was expelled by Bamako authorities.

In Burkina Faso, eight months after his accession to power, Lieutenant-Colonel Damiba was overthrown by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, with the MPSR II (patriotic movement for the safeguard and restoration). Colonel Damiba was criticized for his "inability" to resolve the problem of insecurity linked to jihadist attacks which is only "getting worse". His successor, like the Bamako militaries, turns towards Moscow.

The consequences of these reversals of alliances are many. France and its European partners formalize, on February 17, 2022, their military withdrawal from Mali, at the end of nine years of anti-jihadist fight. « Due to the multiple Malian transitional authorities obstructions, Canada and the European states operating alongside the (French) Operation Barkhane and within the Takuba Task Force, believe that the conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement ... in Mali and have therefore decided to begin the coordinated withdrawal from Malian territory of their respective military resources committed to these operations », they announced in a joint declaration. "We cannot remain engaged militarily alongside de facto authorities whose strategy or hidden objectives we don't share," and who resort to "mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Company with "predatory ambitions," argued French President Emmanuel Macron, during a press conference alongside the presidents of Senegal, Ghana and the European Council.

On August 15, 2022 the last French soldiers actually left Mali and MINUSMA withdrew from there on December 23, 2023, at the urgent request of Bamako authorities.

In Niger, to justify their coup d'état of July 26, 2023 against the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, the military invoked the pretext of growing insecurity and the absence of economic growth. They said the intervention was necessary to avoid "the gradual and inevitable destruction" of the country.

The feeling of failure had multiple consequences. The international partnership to fight terrorism in the Sahel has been shattered, with the breakdown of relations between France and its three former colonies of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The coups also ended the G5 Sahel, triggering the creation, by the three concerned countries, of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

The three also weakened ECOWAS by leaving it "without delay". Mali and Burkina Faso have sought, to varying degrees, Russia as a new strategic partner. Niger has also taken steps in that direction. This Alliance has strengthened Russia's geopolitical position, making it more apparent that the three countries are now the object of rivalry between Western powers and Russia. This new development further breaks a Sahel region still hit by violence from jihadist groups linked to AQIM and the Islamic State...

A huge question: have the major players in the anti-terrorist fight lost sight of their strategic objective, or had they from the start, a Hidden Agenda?

Limam NADAWA, Consultant for Centre4s.

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