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The Barkhane Exit by Emmanuel Macron. Operational rescuer or political reasoning? (v2)

(B2) Several African, international and operational political reasons seem to motivate the French president's decision, as well as a certain electoral opportunism.

Emmanuel Macron during the press conference (credit: Elysée)

Announced this Thursday (June 10) during a press conference dedicated to presenting the French position at the G7 and at the NATO summit, the decision to end Barkhane may have surprised... The words used by Emmanuel Macron, speaking of a “ feeling of wear and tear "Or" to lose the thread of why we are here » — were indeed far from the victory communiqués of a few months ago (read: Exit Barkhane. Long live Takuba and EUTM Mali. Emmanuel Macron decides to move the lines).

A decision postponed several times

We remember a decision expected at the end of 2020. Ultimately, the decision was postponed. The French president having failed to decide. For Emmanuel Macron, it was therefore time to put forward an exit strategy, to try to free ourselves from what can be roughly analyzed as a military impasse, before becoming a quagmire. Despite the impression that everyone can, we can nevertheless put forward some solid reasons which motivate this decision, which has been thought about at length (too long, no doubt).

The reasons for this decision are multiple.

Military stalemate

First of all, despite the communiqués trumpeting victories over the terrorist enemy, despite a arises (decided at the Pau summit), the hard blows dealt and the dozens of 'terrorists' neutralized - 859 killed for the only Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in a little over a year, since the Pau summit, said the director of military intelligence (DRM) to parliamentarians — the rebel and terrorist movements do not seem to be weakening or lacking in troops. It's not a failure. French forces scored tactical successes. But they failed in the strategic objective: to avoid terrorist influence on the Sahel. On site, the joy and good humor that had greeted their intervention in 2013 faded, giving way to a certain weariness, even hostility. We can therefore say that it is a semi-failure.

The new political situation African

Successive coups in Chad and Mali precipitated the decision to readjust the troops – even if the French president denies this. The situation in N'Djamena is particularly worrying. This is where the headquarters and much of the operation's air logistics are located. The shift towards chronic instability could both threaten the functioning of the HQ, but also the arrival of Europeans on the theater, or even in support. The temptation of a military putsch still remains strong. It could reach other countries. The political situation in Burkina Faso remains just as fragile.

The failure of Takuba's rise to European power

The idea of ​​setting up a European operation composed of European special forces has, for the moment, failed. Every three months, the Minister of the Armed Forces puffs out her chest and announces future arrivals. We must recognize it: France has not succeeded in convincing, beyond the first actors who came from the start, Estonians and Czechs, later joined by the Swedes, the other contributions are still awaited. The Italians are having their ears pulled. Neither the Dutch nor the Belgians plan to come. Even less so the Germans, the British or the Spanish... This is due to several factors: the traditional slow mobilization of Europeans, a certain lack of enthusiasm for a distant and dangerous theater, etc. But we must also not forget the ambiguity maintained by the French regarding Takuba's command and objectives. The format 'Task Force'hard to convince. It is not quite a multinational operation in its own right, but a simple force in a French system.

The need to convince European and NATO partners

To convince both political leaders and national elected officials from other countries, we need a more solid, more multinational, more African format. Hence the announced dissolution of 'Barkhane', too connoted 'French OPEX' (1), destined to be reborn under another name. In fact, we are merging 'Barkhane', 'Takuba' and the G5 Sahel force into a single operation. This announcement (just before the G7 and NATO summits) also aims to convince NATO allies in the first place, and other European and African partners to join Takuba.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan

The withdrawal decided quickly by Joe Biden of the Americans from Afghanistan (which leads to that of the NATO Allies) also played a role in this decision, a bit like an example and an opportunity. It both opens up space for a new operation in the Sahel – military personnel becoming 'available' after returning 'home' – but also made Barkhane an obvious symbol of military interventionism. We therefore had to move the lines.

The electoral deadline

Finally, we must not forget the proximity of the French electoral deadline of May 2022. The operation in the Sahel is no longer really favored by the French. It was urgent to begin a withdrawal in good order, before possible further inevitable losses. If these occurred in the middle of the presidential campaign, they could not be attributed solely to fate...

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Hence the insistence of the President of the Republic on turning the page on external operations

Updated with details on certain turns of phrase and addition of the American withdrawal argument.

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).