French President Emmanuel Macron announced Thursday that French military operations against militants in West Africa will end, and that French forces there are now operating as part of a broader international effort.
“It is time to start a profound transformation of our military presence in the Sahel,” Macron said at a press conference, referring to Operation Barkhane, under which about 5,100 soldiers are deployed across the region.
Macron made it clear that the final touches for the change would be put in place by the end of June, after consultations with the United States and European countries participating in the region, and the five Sahel countries, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
“Many of our soldiers have fallen,” he said. “I’m thinking of their families. We owe them consistency and clarity. Our desired goal is to reduce our bases and reduce external operations.”
Macron added that several hundred French special forces personnel will work alongside other European countries in the “Takuba” task force battling militants in the Sahel along with the armies of Mali and Nigeria.
He said that more countries will be asked to contribute troops to this coalition, including the United States, which has so far provided nothing but logistical and informational support in the Sahel region.
Other French forces will operate as part of international training and missions already operating in the region. Macron criticized the latest coup in Mali, saying the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had erred in its support. He added that France could not continue to send soldiers to their deaths, if the Sahel governments negotiated with their killers.
The decision comes days after Mali’s military commander, Colonel Asimi Gueta, seized power following the ouster of the second president in nine months. France has achieved successes against the militants of the Sahel over the past few months, but the situation is very fragile, and frustration hangs over Paris with no end in sight, and because of the political turmoil, especially in Mali.
Macron earlier this month described the latest developments in Mali as a “coup within a coup”, and temporarily suspended joint operations between French and Malian forces on June 3.
About 55 French soldiers have died in the region since France intervened in 2013 to counter al-Qaeda-linked groups that had seized northern Mali cities a year earlier.