France transforming military presence in the Sahel - Minister

Sahel – Replies by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to three questions in the National Assembly

Paris, 15 June 2021

I agree with your diagnosis of the President’s decision on changes to our forces’ presence in the Sahel. We’ve begun discussions, consultations, with our partners with a view to a profound transformation of our military presence in the Sahel, which will take the form of ending what’s called an external operation and moving towards cooperation in terms of backup and support for the Sahel countries’ armed forces.

This is a new framework for our engagement that will enable us to continue our action with our colleagues in the Takuba force, the eight European countries in the Takuba force, of which we’ll always form the backbone, and will also enable us to continue supporting the training body EUTM, which you’re aware of, and to be the reassuring force behind the MINUSMA mission.

So it’s an operation of re-adaptation in the face of the new threat scenario. France will obviously continue fighting armed terrorist groups; that’s an absolute priority.

But as you know – and you referred to General Lecointre –, military concepts develop according to the threat. We must adapt them. In my previous post, I was indirectly responsible for Operation Serval; we had to change it to Operation Barkhane. And in it we have two pillars, cooperation and counter-terrorism, which will remain in order to combat our enemy and our threat in the South, i.e. the forces of Daesh and al-Qaeda, which our soldiers – to whom I pay tribute – have been fighting for nearly nine years now.

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I had the chance to say earlier that this decision is neither a surprise nor a break with the past, but a transformation.

And it’s not a surprise because at the Pau summit at the beginning of 2020, then followed by the N’Djamena summit in February 2021, we were led to – the President discussed with our G5 Sahel partners, but also our partners in the Gulf of Guinea countries, the need to modify our posture by means of a threefold drive – I’m building on my previous reply to answer your question – a threefold drive of Sahelization, Europeanization and internationalization, obviously while maintaining the priority goal of combating the development of terrorism, in particular by means of the Takuba force.

Well, that doesn’t all happen alone! Because you’re right: we must make the four pillars of the so-called Pau strategy or N’Djamena strategy work together, in other words the fight against terrorism, which we’re maintaining, and the fact that we’re reinforcing the African forces’ capabilities so that they themselves are in a position to ensure the security of the States they represent. Secondly – and this is absolutely urgent, as you said – reinforcing the deployment of the State and public services in areas under jihadist influence. I was in Burkina Faso two days ago, and I was able to discuss this issue with President Kaboré, following the tragedies that had occurred in the previous days. And finally, development.

That’s the priority. The four pillars must work together. And today the need is to help get the territory back on its feet, which is the priority: get schools, hospitals and government back, get back police in the areas recaptured from jihadist forces. It’s a priority which completely ties in with the action of the armed forces.

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I apologize for the Armed Forces Minister, who is detained at a meeting in Brussels. Let me come back to your observations concerning the end of Operation Barkhane and the beginning of another operation. I believe I’ve adequately illustrated my remarks in the previous answers; and regarding consultation and discussion with the nation’s elected representatives, I understand that the Armed Forces Minister regularly appears before your committee and I can testify here, I think, before the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that I appear very regularly, and will be doing so again after this session to talk about the whole situation.

Let me reiterate things very clearly:

1. France is present in the Sahel at the request of the Sahel States – at the request of the Sahel States – and in compliance with international law and then and also in accordance with the Security Council resolutions.

2. Intervention models must be adapted according to the evolution of the threat. I don’t think anyone will refute that. And we also note that we now have many partners compared to when Operation Barkhane began, including partners in the counter-terrorism field.

So we have to coordinate all this in a new approach. And this is why we’re going to begin consultations with our partners to define the new way our presence will be organized. That will take a little time! We’re linked to the International Coalition for the Sahel, which brings together 60 stakeholders, mainly States, but also international organizations.

And we’re going to talk about these issues with this coalition and also, obviously, with the members of the G5 Sahel and the members of ECOWAS, as we’ve always done. And it’s no surprise, as I said earlier, that the consultations on the evolution of the military concept began in Pau in January 2020, with heads of State present. It continued in February 2021, and the nation’s elected representatives will obviously be kept fully informed of how the model evolves./.

Published on 16/06/2021

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