French President Emmanuel Macron will officially announce on Wednesday the end of the Barkhane anti-jihadist operation in the Sahel, a little less than three months after the withdrawal of French soldiers from Mali, the Elysee Palace said Tuesday.
This announcement will have no impact on the French military presence in the region. Some 3,000 French troops are still deployed in Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.
The force counted up to 5,500 soldiers at the height of its deployment in the Sahel. Pushed out of Mali by the junta in power since 2020, which is now working – although it denies it – with the sulphurous Russian paramilitary group Wagner, the French army left the country for good in mid-August, after nine years of fighting the jihadists.
It remains in the region, however, and continues to fight against jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group, which are gradually expanding their activities to the countries of the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the Elysée, the principle is “to reduce the exposure and visibility of our military forces in Africa, to focus on cooperation and support, mainly in terms of equipment, training, intelligence, and operational partnership when the countries wish it”.
As soon as the departure of Mali was announced in February, France announced its willingness to launch discussions with African states on this issue.
Even if it does not intend to abandon the fight against jihadism, Paris has to deal with an increasingly hostile African public opinion, in which the influence of rival powers, led by Moscow, is growing via social networks and official media.
A recent report by the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (Irsem), which is part of the French Ministry of Defense, described the “proliferation of disinformation content online, most often intended to denigrate the French presence and justify that of Russia” in Mali. He also noted the contagion in neighboring Burkina.
The idea from now on is to continue to act, but with discretion. No new names were apparently given to the troops now deployed.
“Our soldiers remain covered, protected, supported, administered in conditions that are satisfactory” but the official announcement is “necessary locally”, added the Elysée.
“In the field of perceptions, Barkhane continues to occupy a very important presence on social networks. It is necessary to put a clear end to it in order to switch to another logic”, it was concluded.