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Operation Barkhane reconfigured on three pillars. The threat is in the South, heading for Niger says Emmanuel Macron

(B2) Reduction of the military influence and the workforce on the spot, reorientation of efforts towards the threat in the South and West, recentralization of command in Niger... Here are some of the ideas presented by Emmanuel Macron on Friday ( July 9th). Three missions are set in the post-Barkhane era: neutralize terrorists, support the rise in power of the G5 Sahel forces and rapid reaction in the event of a threat.

Emmanuel Macron presenting the details of Barkhane's reconfiguration at the end of the G5 Sahel meeting (Flux Elysée - Selection B2)
  • These announcements took place at the end of a G5 Sahel meeting in hybrid format (half by video-conference) and face-to-face, the Nigerien president being alone present alongside the French president at the Élysée.
  • The French president thus comes to detail the announcements made at the end of June. The reasons for this disengagement are multiple and do not just boil down to an evolution of the threat (read: The Barkhane Exit by Emmanuel Macron. Operational rescuer or political reasoning?)

Objective: close Barkhane

We no longer hide from vaguer terminology, such as the word 'transformation'. The presidential objective is clear: Operation Barkhane will be closed as soon as the reorganization le "journey" in presidential parlance — will be "accomplished[e]. »

All vite

After having hesitated for a long time to act on a change of foot for Barkhane, Emmanuel Macron no longer wants to hang around. This desire to go quickly comes up several times in the presidential statement. It's necessary« without further ado “, begin this redeployment, taking advantage of the “ ebb of the terrorist grip " in the North of Mali and " stabilization of the border area ". The new system in Niger will be implemented “ in the coming months ". The " re setup "of Operation Barkhane will begin" from the next few weeks ". It should thus be completed during 2022, if we are to believe the elements mentioned, just in time before the electoral period in France – the first elections, presidential, will take place in April.

The withdrawal from northern Mali

France will thus reduce its military holdings in northern Mali, so as to progressive but quite fast. Kidal, Tessalit, Timbuktu will thus be unclipped (according to the official terminology). " These closures will be spread over the second half of 2021 and will be completed by the beginning of 2022. NB: The ground should be left to MINUSMA peacekeepers and Malian forces.

A reduction in troop size

Eventually, there will be between 2 and 500 forces on the spot (compared to more than 3 today) which will be less scattered on the ground, but concentrated on a few essential points: Niamey (Niger) and Gao and Ménaka (Mali), to which must be added the historical base in the region: N'Djamena (Chad - on the air base 000 Camp Kossei).

Relocate the command to Niger

The central command of Task Force Takuba and the coordination command between Takuba and the devices of the G5 Sahel joint forces are moving. Currently based in N'Djamena (for Takuba) and Gao (for Barkhane support), they will be relocated to Niamey (1). With the air forces, the 'Niamey' pole will be very heavily muscled confirms the president. France remains engaged in the Sahel ". Even if she " does not have the vocation, even less the will, to remain eternally engaged in the Sahel says Emmanuel Macron.

The three elements of presence

The military presence will be articulated around three missions (and not two as indicated previously) which all three have as their objective the " fight against terrorism ».

First axis: continue the neutralization and disorganization "of the command of the two organizations" enemies “: the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and Al Qaeda. It will be mainly ensured by the Task Force Saber, composed of French special forces and other support elements.

Second axis: “support for the rise in power of the armies of the region”. This " partnership dimension of combat " with the support of African partners during " joint operations will be led by the Takuba Task Force which will " therefore [also] therefore a counter-terrorism mission », but also through bilateral training actions and via the European mission EUTM Mali.

Third axis: the quick reaction (or " reinsurance in presidential terminology). The French forces will remain permanently able to intervene quickly for the benefit of allied or partner forces “, from several poles: Niger, Mali and Chad (for the Sahel) as well as Côte d'Ivoire (which is not expressly mentioned, but does appear in the system).

The Takuba Task Force in pole position

The Takuba Task Force is gaining momentum, at least politically. It has been recognized as having a role in its own right in the latest conclusions of the European Council (2) as well as in the mandate of MINUSMA (3). France remains the framework nation ” of this force, bringing to it a “ significant contribution ". But Paris hopes to aggregate new components. " We have solicited several other non-European partners and we are soliciting support missions from African partners. “, explains the French leader. The United States should occupy a prominent place in this cooperation. The fact that the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, has just signed a memorandum in Washington for cooperation between special forces is no coincidence.

NB: three countries are already concretely participating in the mission (Estonia, Czechia, Sweden) joined by Italy. They should be followed at the end of the year by Romania and Portugal and, at the beginning of 2022 by Denmark, and (perhaps) the Lithuanians.

Reinforce the cooperation-training part

This dimension will be based on two main elements: the French system of " operational military partnership » already existing at « West Africa regional scale (bilateral cooperation); and the European training mission EUTM Mali. Two objectives have been set by France for this partnership: preparation for operational engagement, and the construction of defense tools capable of training, training and managing soldiers over the long term, maintaining equipment, and also acquiring skills ».

With the EUTM Mali mission as a central hub in the Sahel

The transformation is already underway for Europeans since mandate V of the EUTM Mali mission, decided more than a year ago at European level (in March 2020!) aims to increase its workforce and extend its action in three directions: the Central Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger. The health crisis and the first coup in August 2020 delayed the implementation of this development a little. But she's already engaged. Spanish general Gracia Herreiz confirmed it to us in an exclusive interview.

Reinsurance of local forces in three geographic hubs

France should maintain a fairly substantial reaction system: aerial capabilities » based in Niger (planned Niamey air base with Reaper drones in particular and fighter planes); certain support capacities based in Mali — “health” support (Role 2 hospital in Gao), “aeromobility” (transport and attack helicopters) and “rapid reaction force”; a " significant air and ground presence » based in N'Djamena in Chad (land group and 'Air' group). The French military (based near the airport at Camp Kossei) should retain their primary function of " cooperation with the Chadian armed forces (intelligence assistance, territorial defence, etc.). To these must be added the French elements in the Ivory Coast, in the West African zone.

A change of focus to Niger

The change of focus, more focused on Niger, is clear. A " roadmap "will be established" within a week to increase the role in Niger and develop a partnership in combat and the fight against terrorism ". This development responds to a political as well as a military necessity.

A democratic island

With Chad and a Mali headed for 'transitional' military governments stemming from a coup or coup, and therefore unstable, Niger remains a democratic and stable island. Even if it remains fragile and subject to raids by jihadists, outside a 'conflict' zone in the political sense of the term. It is therefore easier to commit to it for most European countries. It can thus allow the deployment of support aircraft or officers at headquarters without formal parliamentary approval for countries subject to this procedure (eg Germany or the Netherlands).

Military cooperation already initiated by several European countries

On the military level, the Italians, like the Germans or the Belgians, have already started bilateral cooperation with the Nigerien army. Added to that the American presence, in fact, everything militates today to make Niger the center of European military activity. This change has already been illustrated by theOperation 'Soltice' led by the Takuba in June with the Nigerien forces, in Niger (the lure of the term 'Liptako Malo-Nigerien' used in official communication is thus shattered).

The reasons given for this change

The 'successes' achieved

Emmanuel Macron essentially justifies this change for two reasons. First, the " succès “gathered in the area of ​​the three borders — “ the project of territorial entrenchment has been hampered, prevented by the concentration of efforts and forces decided at the Pau summit. " Together we were able to regain control of these territories ».

...and the terrorist pivot to West Africa

Second reason: the changing nature of the threat which spreads more towards the "South" and the West. A real " pivot of terrorist organizations is taking place. The current pattern of the French presence no longer corresponds to the geography or [to] the threat ". " Our adversaries have today abandoned a territorial ambition in favor of a threat dissemination project which no longer concerns “only the Sahel but” the whole of West Africa ". One " paradigm shift » which is illustrated in « the pressure [exerted] by terrorist groups in the areas on the border between Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire ". The pressure towards all the countries of the Gulf of Guinea is already a realityé”.

The threat to Europe evacuated

We can notice that the threat towards Europe, which was a time evoked like a justification of the French presence, is not mentioned, except in an indirect way. On the other hand, European and African solidarity is highlighted. " The attacks we have experienced on our territory teach us that this fight is also ours, us, French and Europeans. It is for this reason that we lead it by your side »

The role of Europeans highlighted

In the same way, except in a sibylline way, the complex political situation in Mali or Chad is evacuated. On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron invokes Europe or the Europeans several times in his remarks (five times according to B2's account), as if he intended to demonstrate that this presence was no longer French but European.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

On the reasons for this withdrawal, read our analysis: The Barkhane Exit by Emmanuel Macron. Operational rescuer or political reasoning?

To find out a bit about what the 'Takuba' do in training and supporting #FAMA Malians on Sunday LCP at 19:30 p.m. in the Journal de la Défense. Read also our analysis (January 2021): The multiple contradictions of Operation Barkhane and the French commitment to the Sahel

  1. The president does not specify whether the 'tactical' district of Takuba - currently located in Ménaka - is concerned by this movement. One can doubt it, given the investment made on the spot by the various European forces (Sweden, Italy) and the support which has just been signed with the NSPA, a NATO agency.
  2. « The EU and its Member States will continue to support the stabilization of the G5 Sahel countries, in particular the G5 Sahel Joint Force, through the continuation of EU CSDP missions and engagement in the Takuba Task Force. (point 38 of the conclusions of the European Council of 24 and 25 June 2021.
  3. Resolution 2584 approved on June 29 by the United Nations Security Council insists in particular on “ Coordination, exchange of information and, as appropriate, operational and logistical support between MINUSMA, the Malian Defense and Security Forces, the G5 Sahel Joint Force, French forces and European partners , including the Takuba Force Grouping and the European Union Missions in Mali ". And she asks the secretary general to report every three months on this issue.

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).