France has deployed thousands of troops across the Sahel in a War on Terror-style campaign against Islamist militants. The campaign, which began in 2013, has seen the deployment of French, Estonian, Swedish, and Czech troops to the nations of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.
French President Emmanuel Macron has announced an end to Operation Barkhane, the ambitious multi-year Paris-led counter-terrorism campaign in western and central Africa.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Macron said the mission would be shelved as part of a "profound transformation" of France's military presence in the region which would include a partial withdrawal of troops, and added that the operation would be replaced with an international force in which France would be participating.
© AP Photo / Jerome DelayParis Suspends Military Cooperation With Mali Until Getting ‘Guarantees’ on Civilian Power Transfer"The time has come: the continuation of our commitment in the Sahel will not be in the same way," he said, suggesting that Paris could not keep working with governments in the region which choose to negotiate with Islamist militants, or which fail to retake control of areas liberated from terrorism. "We are there in support of the countries, not as their substitute," the president added.
Macron's comments follow the recent deterioration of ties between Paris and the new authorities in the nation of Mali, which witnessed a military coup last month. France announced the suspension of joint military operations with Malian forces on 3 June, ostensibly as a precaution over the security situation in the country.
"We will have to hold a dialogue with our African and European partners. We will keep a counter-terrorism pillar with special forces with several hundred troops…and there will be a second pillar that will engage in cooperation, and which we will reinforce," Macron promised in Thursday's remarks. He also emphasised that the remaining French presence would not be based on a "constant framework."
© AP Photo / Associated PressMali is Just the Latest: US Africa Command Trained Troops Behind at Least Seven Coups in 13 YearsParis formally began Operation Barkhane in 2014, although the first troop deployment took place a year earlier, in January 2013, when France carried out a military operation in northern Mali to assist local forces against Islamist groups which had taken control of the area. That mission was later rolled into the broader Sahal operation involving five African nations. France's 4,500 troop deployment grew to 5,100 personnel in February 2020 after a summit with African allies, but Paris has hinted repeatedly in recent months that its presence would not last indefinitely.
Macron made the remarks ahead of the G7 and NATO summits. Elsewhere in his comments, the president suggested that the Western alliance was "in a situation which requires urgent clarification," saying that it needed to work on ties with Russia and to take account of the configuration of Europe. He added that from his perspective, China should not be treated as "the main subject" for NATO. "We need to know who our enemies are and where they are," he said.
Macron also said that NATO needs to work on improving relations between allies, and said in this regard that he planned to have a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
France and Turkey suffered a major downturn in relations last year amid the Greek-Cypriot-Turkish spat over gas drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, during which France sided with the Greek and Cypriot side. In December, Erdogan expressed hope that France would soon "get rid of" Macron. The feud escalated earlier this year amid Macron's efforts to crack down on Islamic fundamentalism in his country, which Erdogan characterised as an expression of "Islamophobia."