The French are back in Africa, and apparently ready to stay. With the recent agreement announced, Operation Barkhane will began early August and take over the precedent French mission in Mali, Operation Serval. Operation Barkhane, named after a crescent-shaped dune in the Sahara desert, is to become the french pillar of counterterrorism in the Sahel region. French will use and deploy a 3,000-strong counterterrorism forces over five countries, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The purpose of Operation Barkhane seeks at ‘regionalizing‘ the counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel.
It all started with the Libyan intervention in 2011. With the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, the Libyan borders became so porous that a large number of criminal and terrorist networks were able to spread across the region. The French intervened in emergency in 2012 in Mali in order to stop the jihadist incursion from Northern Mali to the Malian capital. Operation Barkhane will bring Operation Serval, in charge of fighting jihadists in Mali, to an end. President Hollande has argued that Operation Barkhane seeks to assist and help Africans to enforce their own security. In other words, French defense minister underscored (see in the video) that France assures its own security, Europe’ security and ultimately France is becoming the leader in fighting radical islamic terrorism.
The early involvements of French in Africa with Libya, Mali and Central African Republic are demonstrating the renouveau of French interests and implication in such strategic region for France.
President Hollande of France promised the French a quick Malian adventures and now France is looking at a long-term fight against terrorism in the Sahel region. The reason is that “there still is a major risk” announced French defense minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, “that jihadists develop in the area that runs from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau.” He added that the “aim [of the Operation] is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security.”
In order to fight jihadists in this vast region, Operation Barkhane shall be seen as a reorganization of the forces already present in the region. It will be composed in terms of military and human capabilities of 3,000 military personnel, six fighter jets, 20 helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, 10 transport aircrafts, and three drones (as described by AllAfrica.com and RFI). Considering the number of countries the division of labor will be organized as such:
- headquarters and air force in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena under the leadership of French Général Palasset;
- a regional base in Gao, north Mali, with at least 1,000 men;
- a special forces base in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou;
- an intelligence base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with over 300 men;
- aside from the four permanent bases, several temporary bases will be created with an average of 30-50 men where required.
Several points shall be underlined concerning the success rate of such wide counterterrorist mission. First, as demonstrated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Mali, without a solid state, composed of territorial-polity-society package (to retake the terms of Barry Buzan), the long-term success of any counterterrorist operation will be difficult. The fighting aspect of this mission could go endlessly without the inclusion and implementation of statebuilding dimension in the each country of the Sahel region. Who will undertake the lengthy, costly and complex task of statebuilding? the EU? the UN? the French? Enforcing security in the region with boots on the ground in order to assure the protection of the European homeland may only be a one dimensional strategy.
Second, in term of costs, how much is France willing to invest in this wide counterterrorist operation? The domestic economic situation of France is worrisome considering its slow economic and industrial engine. The French Defense minister confirmed that France has the required economic resources to lead this counterterrorist endeavor. It appears that the French President is giving the economic resources to the military in order to lead the mission to its end. Nevertheless, with a continuous inward looking public opinion and middle class hurt by the Eurozone crisis, it looks like a real political gamble for President Hollande. How will the French respond to such operation? The answer to such question may be easy. Considering the extremely low media coverage on the implementation of Operation Barkhane, the French government is doing it quietly in this period of holiday.
Third, aside from African cooperation, will the US and the EU contribute to the military efforts? After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public opinion has grown war-tired. A large majority of Americans are opposed to the idea that the US should play the role of the global policeman. Thus, President Obama has been in the business of bringing back troops, precise targeting and pivoting to Asia. The US may remain on the sideline, eventually providing some intelligence to the French. When it comes to the EU, the Union has already deployed some forces on the ground through one military CSDP mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) and two civilian CSDP missions (EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger). These CSDP missions may provide some assistance in training armed forces – police and army – of these countries in addressing counterterrorism tactics and strategies. The EU may additionally provide some aids to Sahel countries.
At the end of the day, France is starting a lengthy and risky military endeavor in a vast region with no end in sight. The question that has not be answered is quite simple: what is the endgame? When does France consider the mission accomplished? Fighting terrorism has become the Western windmills.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).