This is the heaviest military loss in decades and the most important for French troops engaged since 2013 in the fight against terrorism in Mali. The day after the death of 13 French soldiers during a night operation against jihadist armed groups in the south of the country, the debate around the French military engagement in the Sahel returns to the front of the stage.
On 19 September 2013, President François Hollande announced, triumphant in Bamako, the victory against terrorists. The French military intervention had just put an end to the advance of jihadist groups from the north to the capital of Mali. In 2014, in the wake of this success, France a large and ambitious military operation aimed at securing a vast region between Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad: Barkhane. Five years later, the anti-terrorist mission in the Sahel seems to be bogged down as the human toll grows.
"4,500 French soldiers and a few thousand international soldiers to secure three million square kilometers is a mission impossible, as we see every day," says Jean-Vincent Brisset, former Air Brigade General and Director of Research at the 'IRIS. "European support is almost non-existent, the under-equipped and under-trained African soldiers and the mobile jihadists in the area remain uncontrollable".
Barkhane "paramount" in the fight against terrorism
At the Council of Ministers, Wednesday, November 27, Emmanuel Macron reiterated his unconditional support for the anti-terrorist mission in the Sahel saying that the presence of soldiers on site was "difficult and paramount". Questioned by France 24, Fabien Gouttefarde, LREM member of the National Defense and Armed Forces Commission, acknowledges that the results are far from satisfactory. "There is a rise of terrorist attacks in the region, it's a fact, but to leave the Sahel is to leave room for terrorists because the G5 and the local forces are not big today facing the Armed groups The goal of Operation Barkhane is to weaken the jihadists to bring them within the reach of local forces, which we equip and train at the same time, and as such, this operation is essential and must continue. "
For General Dominique Trinquand, the stakes are far too important to question the operation. "We try to neutralize the jihadists in the central zone to prevent them from taking Bamako and create a pseudo-state like in Syria.If a caliphate sets up, Europe is directly threatened," said France 24 the former head of the French military mission to the UN.
Increase the number of French, European and African soldiers?
The French contingent on the ground is not enough to stem the threat of terrorism, especially since it operates in a particularly dangerous environment. "The jihadist groups are now in a political logic, they promote an alternative society project," said Niagalé Bagayoko, president of the think tank African Security Sector Network.The foreign soldiers are perceived as occupying forces and constitute, this title, a privileged target ".
To protect its troops by fighting terrorism effectively, should France increase its military presence? Impossible for General Trinquant. "With 4,500 soldiers in the zone, France is at maximum capacity, some regional states such as Burkina Faso are not sufficiently present in the region, which makes it possible to set up jihadists, and we need more investment from our European partners. and African ".
Questioned by France 24, France's deputy Insoumise Bastien Lachaud, a member of the National Defense and Armed Forces Committee, is ironical about European involvement. "The only ones who have told us yes to join a coalition on the ground are Estonia, Belgium and the Czech Republic, not really the biggest armies!" Moreover, the contribution of European soldiers will not be enough to solve the problem because it constitutes a heavy investment in terms of money and time to train the troops to the particular conditions of the field ".
Should France change its approach in the Sahel?
If specialists agree that French involvement in the region must continue, some believe that a change of course is necessary. For Niagalé Bagayoko, it is the definition of the threat that poses a problem. "Operation Barkhane is focused on anti-terrorism. However, it does not take into account the evolution of the situation and complex regional issues such as community problems and the evolution of traffic ".
A position shared by Bastien Lachaud. The MP from France Insoumise says that the military operation can not solve the crisis that is primarily political. "It has been five years since we have embarked on a military strategy while the jihadists are gaining ground, and the priority must now be given to development: to help Mali rebuild itself so that the State can take over its role and prevent the armed groups from In 2013, we were welcomed as heroes, today the Malians demonstrate against the French presence, but the resolution of the conflict must go through the people ".