France’s African forever war,

John Lewis-Stempel, farmer, nature writer and author

There is something inescapably Beau Geste about France’s Operation Barkhane. Today, as yesterday and as tomorrow, combat patrols from the French Foreign Legion and other regiments of the French Army will set out into the sand and scrub of sub-Saharan Africa searching out jihadists attached to al-Qaeda and Isis.

France has now been waging war in the no man’s land of the Sahel for six long years. Barkhane began on 1 August 2014, with a mandate for counter-insurgency ops across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — an area the size of Europe. But in the Sahel, the terrorists can run and they can hide. Initially, the French deployment was 4,500 troops — with the Legion heavily committed, as always — but this year President Macron boosted the troop numbers of President Hollande to 5,100. Political Left to political Right, Barkhane is a French commitment. For now.

Ostensibly, the French work alongside the Sahel’s national armies and the peacekeepers of the United Nations’ Minumusa stabilization mission in Mali. For months Paris has been trying to build support in Europe and the West for a multinational special ops “Task Force Takuba”. Only Estonia and the Czech Republic have confirmed allocation of personnel; Britain, meanwhile, contributes a paltry three Chinook helicopters to Barkhane; Denmark two Merlin helicopters; the US declines the invitation to the party, again and again. […]

In terms of military evolution, France is where America was in 2001 with Afghanistan. No exit strategy, no plan other than fighting war with war. Meanwhile, the armies of the “G5 Sahel”’, supposedly supportive of Barkhane, are under-trained and under-equipped. On one training exercise, the French instructor discovered that his Malian army students had no idea what a compass was. Läs atikel