Over the past seven years, France’s Barkhane counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel has weathered terrorist attacks, flagging political support from its African allies, and growing popular protests against the ongoing presence of Paris, the region’s former colonial power. Now, it faces the coup in Mali.
August’s power grab by a group of army colonels — Mali’s fourth coup since independence — is again posing questions about whether and for how long French boots should remain in an increasingly shifting and dangerous terrain.
That debate ratcheted up a notch this week, following the deaths of two French soldiers in northern Mali, bringing to 45 the number of French fatalities in the region over the past seven years. […]
The debate comes as Mali’s new military rulers hold local and international talks about the country’s next steps. The 15-nation Economic Commission of West African States, or ECOWAS, has set a 12-month limit for new elections and a September 15th deadline for the appointment of an interim president and prime minister. […]
Even as the European Union and Washington announced the suspension of some military missions in Mali following the coup, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in late August the Barkhane peacekeeping force “would continue.” […]
Helping to ease relations, Mali’s coup leaders have said they would respect the country’s previous military engagements, which include partnering with other so-called G-5 Sahel member states and France in fighting the long-running Islamist insurgency in northern Mali and neighboring countries.
When they met with France’s ambassador to Mali in August, analyst Lebovich noted, Barkhane’s commander was also present.
“There was a clear message being sent,” he added, “that from their perspective, nothing changed with Barkhane.” […]
French opposition parties have expressed their own doubts about the status quo.
A number of analysts are also skeptical about Barkhane’s effectiveness. Some point to a tangle of sometimes conflicting French and other European military missions in the region, and to protests in Mali and elsewhere against foreign involvement.
“The French say they’re making headway,” analyst Lebovich said. “Most outside specialists look at this and say, ‘Yes, there’s some improvement, but in general the overall security situation is not that much better.’ ” Läs artikel