The heads of state of the G5 Sahel are due to meet on Friday July 9 with Emmanuel Macron, while France has yet to give any details on the reduction of its military forces in the region, where jihadist groups are still as threatening.
Only the Nigerien president, Mohamed Bazoum, will be in Paris. His Chadian, Malian, Burkinabé and Mauritanian counterparts will remain for their part by videoconference for a meeting as expected as it is discreet: France did not communicate until Thursday at the end of the day on the program, without any comment.
After more than eight years of massive engagement, colossal sums swallowed up and 50 soldiers killed in combat, the French President announced in June the imminent end of Operation “Barkhane” with a downward review of French troops (5,100 soldiers currently), the closure of military bases and a re-articulation of the anti-jihadist fight around European partners.
And even if Paris had repeatedly mentioned the possibility of a withdrawal, the African partners were taken aback by this announcement. They will be eager for details on an operation that could significantly change the balance of power on the ground between the regular armies and jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group.
Task force «Takuba»
In this immense desert region largely neglected by the central powers, the rest of the counterterrorism will have to be assumed by the armies of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which few observers consider capable of meeting the challenge.
Opposite, the jihadist groups tirelessly continue to make their mark, spreading towards the Gulf of Guinea, to the south, and causing heavy losses in the armed forces as well as among the civilian populations.
Paris will however try to convince its partners of the viability of its European project: it relies heavily on the task force “Takuba”, elite troops supposed to train Malian units in combat and which today bring together 600 men, half of whom French, and Estonians, Czechs, Swedes and Italians.
On the African side, the political situations are somewhat uncertain. In Chad, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno succeeded his father at the age of 37, killed at the front in April, without regard for the Constitution but with the rapid support of Paris. In Mali, the junta has chained two coups d’état in less than a year, this time pushing France to suspend its military cooperation before resuming it quite recently without much explanation.
Over the course of the discussions, the question of negotiations with armed groups could also arise, which several African states are calling for. But Paris excludes discussing with senior executives, linked to jihadist groups of ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
At the same time, another foreign partner will be approached: the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, is in the United States this Friday to meet her counterpart, Lloyd Austin. It should confirm the support provided by Washington in the region: air refueling, logistics transport and intelligence.