Visiting Bamako, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, announced on Monday the neutralization of “around fifty jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda on Friday during an operation carried out in Mali by the French army in the so-called zone of “Three borders”, close to Burkina Faso ”. According to her, the French army was able to spot by its drones a large column of jihadists on motorcycles. “These motorcycles then grouped together and hid under the trees. We had two Mirages in the area, Barkhane immediately launched the operation and launched a strike ”. About fifty weapons were also seized.
The Minister of the Armies Florence Parly is currently in the Sahel a few days after the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian. After a stopover in Niamey, Niger, where she met President Mahamdou Issoufou, she arrived in Mali on Monday. She was to meet her counterpart, Colonel Sadio Camara, the Malian Chief of Staff, General Oumar Diarra, transitional president Bah Ndaw, but also the vice-president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, the strong man of the junta which took power this summer, by overthrowing former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta on August 18.
Step by step, the French authorities are seeking to define their relations with the transitional power in Bamako. To get out of the military deadlock in the Sahel, Paris is counting on a change of political situation and a new involvement of local actors.
“The objective is to ensure the determination of the authorities to continue the engagement of the Malian armed forces in the various operations that we are carrying out together,” Florence Parly told AFP. Since 2013, France has been operating militarily in Mali against the “terrorist armed groups” which are rampant in the north and east of the country.
Operation Barkhane, since 2014, has set itself the objective of enabling the armed forces of the Sahel, and primarily Malians, to face the jihadist threat. “This determination has not wavered since August 18, but it is important to have an exchange with the authorities to ensure that this intention will fit into the longer term, because we must plan new operations ”, She added.
Barkhane at a tipping point
After the offensive launched in January after the Pau summit to regain the ascendancy on the ground, and which had materialized by the sending of 600 additional men, Barkhane reached a tipping point. “We are approaching the end of the year. It is a natural moment to take stock of the progress of the commitments made, ”stressed Florence Parly.
Tactically, the French army is achieving indisputable success. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, designated as the main enemy during the Pau summit, suffered severe losses in the first half of the year in the Three Borders region, where it is rife. But the threat is endemic, linked to the politico-social fragility of Mali, to intra-community tensions or to the withdrawal of the State. So many evils that Barkhane cannot overcome.
If the heart of the EIGS has only a few hundred men, the number of its combatants in the broad sense is impossible to determine precisely, argues within the general staff. The violence has not gone away. From then on, voices began to question the future of Barkhane. For the deputy of the majority Thomas Gassilloud, the hour of a decline has come. “We are at the end of a cycle,” he said, wanting to start a debate.
France doesn’t want to be alone anymore
Within the armed forces, priority is now given to the “Sahelization” of the conflict and to the “internationalization” of its support. Clearly, France no longer wants to be alone to fight in the Sahel. It is preparing a “transition” which announces, no doubt in hushed words, a gradual decrease in the resources deployed. The soldiers insist: each operation is now carried out jointly with local armies, within the framework of the G5 Sahel Joint Force. The level of coordination has reached an unmatched level, it is said. Nigeriens have made notable progress. To help the countries of the region, the EUTM European training mission should be extended to Burkina Faso and Niger.
Paris is also betting on European cooperation with the slow but gradual arrival of the elements of the Takuba Task Force. Composed of European special forces, Takuba must accompany and advise the local forces. Estonian soldiers have been there since July. The Czechs, Swedes and Italians are expected by early next year. Takuba participated in a first operation on the ground: “Bourrasque”.
“Mali must have forces capable of dealing with terrorist groups capable of regenerating over time,” declared Florence Parly after her meeting with the Malian Minister of Defense. “Today the situation shows that we must accelerate. The return of armies and security forces to the entire territory is a prerequisite for the return of administrations. We must dispute the ground with armed terrorist groups, ”she continued. “Faced with a diluted enemy, you have to know how to reinvent yourself. Barkhane is adapting and will continue to adapt, ”she insisted.
Paris refuses to dialogue with terrorist groups
In Bamako, the junta, and in particular Colonel Goïta, has not ceased since taking power to declare that it wanted to respect military agreements with its partners and to continue the war against the jihadists. But she also negotiated the release of hostages by releasing 200 jailed jihadists. For Barkhane, who has always firmly refused any negotiation with groups qualified as terrorists, the blow is hard. On social networks, the Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly paraded with his men. In Paris, people insist that the leader of the GSIM, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, is still on Barkhane’s list of enemies.
In Bamako, the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly could hope for some answers from her official interlocutors. “We cannot dialogue with jihadist groups which have not given up on the terrorist fight,” she declared before her talks. “It is the responsibility of the Malian authorities, not ours, but it is important to discuss” on the subject, she added. A week earlier, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had also ruled out any discussion with armed groups that would not have signed the 2015 peace agreements. Transitional Prime Minister Moctar Ouane was less affirmative.
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