There's no easy way out of Africa for French forces

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Strat­for

Forecast High­lights

·The weak­ness of Sa­hel states, in­clud­ing Mali and Niger, will con­tinue to force them to rely on for­eign pow­ers, such as France, for se­cu­rity.

·France will con­tinue work­ing to pre­vent a se­cu­rity cri­sis from de­vel­op­ing in any of its part­ner states in the ter­ror­ist-rich Sa­hel. ·Newly elected French pres­i­dent Manuel Macron will be lim­ited in his abil­ity to mil­i­tar­ily dis­en­gage from Mali and Africa more broadly. De­spite all of France's press­ing do­mes­tic is­sues, its newly elected pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, trav­elled to Mali dur­ing his first week in of­fice, send­ing a clear mes­sage to the world: France still con­sid­ers Africa a top pri­or­ity.

On the trip, Macron met May 19 with Malian Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and with some of the more than 3,000 French troops sta­tioned in the coun­try un­der the aegis of Op­er­a­tion Barkhane. Though Macron's po­lit­i­cal strat­egy is still so­lid­i­fy­ing from cam­paign prom­ises into ac­tual pol­icy, his ad­min­is­tra­tion will face the same se­vere con­straints in the Sa­hel re­gion as did his pre­de­ces­sors, in­clud­ing in­sti­tu­tional weak­ness, re­silient Is­lamic mil­i­tant groups and rough phys­i­cal ter­rain – which will make a mil­i­tary draw­down dif­fi­cult.

New Pres­i­dent, Old Prob­lems

There is lit­tle doubt that France's 2013 in­ter­ven­tion helped stave off a com­plete col­lapse of the Malian state. The French mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tion Ser­val, be­gun in Jan­uary 2013, had four goals: The first was as­sist­ing Malian and African forces to halt the ad­vance of ex­trem­ists and re­in­stat­ing Malian sovereignty over the break­away north. The sec­ond was strik­ing ter­ror­ist har­bours to dis­rupt op­er­a­tions. The third was pro­tect­ing the coun­try's cap­i­tal, Ba­mako (at the coun­try's cen­tre). Fi­nally, it was to set the con­di­tions for a United Na­tions mis­sion in the coun­try, a European Union Train­ing mis­sion (EUTM), and free and fair elec­tions by July 2013.

As orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned, once Op­er­a­tion Ser­val had met those goals, France would be able to hand off se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions to the U.N. mis­sion, MINUSMA. But for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, that did not hap­pen, and France in­stead has had to dig in for a longer-term mis­sion.

Against the re­siliency of mil­i­tant groups op­er­at­ing in Mali and in the broader re­gion, MINUSMA has largely proved in­ad­e­quate and has quickly be­come the United Na­tions' most fa­tally dan­ger­ous mis­sion. To un­der­score the poor se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, on May 17, the new head of U.N. peace­keep­ing an­nounced that a rapid in­ter­ven­tion force was be­ing sent to the cen­tre of the coun­try. Though de­tails about the size and scope of the force re­main un­clear, the de­ci­sion to de­ploy it was un­doubt­edly prompted by the no­tice­able uptick in mil­i­tant at­tacks and in in­ter­com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in the area in re­cent years. Those are prob­lems that the Malian mil­i­tary has had dif­fi­culty ef­fec­tively ad­dress­ing be­cause of en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic weak­ness. Rec­og­niz­ing the fragility of the Sa­hel re­gion, France, too, broad­ened Op­er­a­tion Ser­val in 2014 into a re­gional coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy, known as Op­er­a­tion Barkhane. Many coun­tries in the Sa­hel re­gion – in­clud­ing Niger, Burk­ina Faso, Chad and Mau­ri­ta­nia – are threat­ened to var­i­ous de­grees by state weak­ness and transna­tional mil­i­tancy. Even af­ter years of be­ing tar­geted, al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb, al Moura­bitoun, the Macina Lib­er­a­tion Front, the Is­lamic State in the Greater Sa­hel and other Is­lamist mil­i­tant groups re­main ac­tive and ca­pa­ble of at­tacks against soft tar­gets and in­ter­na­tional forces in the re­gion. How­ever, in the ab­sence of the ex­treme power

vac­uum that al­lowed for their rapid ter­ri­to­rial gains in 2012 and 2013, they have been held back some­what. Plan­ners un­der for­mer French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande de­ter­mined that a stronger and more mil­i­ta­rized strat­egy in the Sa­hel was nec­es­sary to hold the re­gion to­gether. The 2013 edi­tion of the French white pa­per on de­fence and na­tional se­cu­rity – a doc­u­ment ex­plain­ing the in­ten­tions of France's de­fence pol­icy – clearly stated the new ap­proach. Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, to en­sure re­gional sta­bil­ity, there would be a greater push for uti­liz­ing French spe­cial forces and tech­nol­ogy, a per­ma­nent de­ploy­ment of army and naval as­sets to the con­ti­nent, and more co­op­er­a­tion with lo­cal African forces. The plan was a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from that of Hol­lande's pre­de­ces­sor, Ni­co­las Sarkozy, who pushed for re­duced mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in Africa in favour of stronger eco­nomic en­gage­ment.

Re­vis­it­ing Strate­gies

With Macron's pres­i­den­tial vic­tory, France's re­la­tion­ship with Mali and with the broader Sa­hel re­gion could be chang­ing again. Macron stated dur­ing his cam­paign that al­though the 2013 French in­ter­ven­tion into Mali was jus­ti­fied, it also un­der­mined Sarkozy's at­tempts to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with for­mer French colonies. Ac­cord­ing to Macron, France must cap­i­tal­ize on the se­cu­rity gains it has made in Mali and must broaden its Africa mis­sion with an al­len­com­pass­ing eco­nomic strat­egy. In essence, the de­bate is whether to fo­cus on com­bat­ing the im­me­di­ate con­cern of ter­ror­ism mil­i­tar­ily or to fo­cus on fight­ing the long-term driv­ers of in­sta­bil­ity, in­clud­ing en­demic poverty and in­sti­tu­tional weak­ness, through eco­nomic en­gage­ment.

But though Macron could im­ple­ment a more eco­nom­i­cally fo­cused Africa strat­egy, he will be lim­ited in how far he can draw down mil­i­tar­ily in the re­gion. Many coun­tries in the Sa­hel, in­clud­ing Mali and Niger, are woe­fully un­pre­pared to deal with the transna­tional ter­ror­ist threat em­a­nat­ing from within and be­yond their bor­ders and would com­pletely suc­cumb to it with­out in­ter­na­tional help. More­over, any mil­i­tary draw­down would re­duce France's abil­ity to act in the case of emer­gency and to project its power in Africa. France's mil­i­tary prow­ess steadily de­clined be­cause of decades of bud­get cuts, and pulling forces out of Africa would weaken it even fur­ther by re­duc­ing the coun­try's im­por­tance on the in­ter­na­tional stage.

Re­lat­edly, though the United States has re­frained from con­tribut­ing troops to the Sa­hel strug­gle, it has pro­vided France with crit­i­cally im­por­tant as­sis­tance in the realms of in­tel­li­gence shar­ing, aerial re­fu­elling, trans­porta­tion and other sup­port ar­eas that have helped un­der­pin France's am­bi­tious re­gional coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy. The ad­min­is­tra­tion of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has ex­pressed com­fort with the ar­range­ment, mean­ing that it will con­tinue de­spite un­cer­tain­ties about White House for­eign pol­icy aims else­where.

No mat­ter Macron's in­ten­tions, he will soon re­al­ize that sta­bil­ity in the Sa­hel is largely de­pen­dent on France's coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions. Thus, though African na­tions may wel­come an em­pha­sis on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, that de­vel­op­ment is un­likely to re­place mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron vis­its French troops sta­tioned in Mali dur­ing his May 19th visit to the African coun­try

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