Macron Signals He’s Set to Scale Back French Mission in Africa
(Bloomberg) -- President Emmanuel Macron hinted during a visit to troops in western France that the country could soon scale back its largest, and most expensive, overseas operation.
“Results achieved by our forces in the Sahel, together with the greater involvement of our European partners, will enable us to adjust our effort,” Macron said Tuesday in the port city of Brest where France’s navy is based. He didn’t provide a time frame, or any other details.
France was invited to intervene in Mali, a former colony, to stop jihadists from taking over the country in 2013. The mission was then expanded to included neighboring nations. Yet, despite the presence of some 5,100 French troops in the region, violence is increasing, with civilians paying the steepest price. That’s led to criticism of the operation, known as Barkhane, locally on social media, while in France there are growing calls for an exit plan.
Defense Minister Florence Parly said earlier this month the government was likely to reduce by 600 the number of troops taking part in Barkhane, which cost France about 911 million euros ($1.1 billion) last year, according to the latest public figures.
After 13 soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Mali in November 2019 -- one of the worst losses of life in France’s military in decades -- Macron threatened to pull troops out of the region altogether if its leaders didn’t do more to contain anti-French sentiment and take on more responsibilities.
A summit in Pau in early 2020 instead led to France sending an extra 600 soldiers to the Sahel and pushing European allies to play a bigger role.
In Brest, Macron said he was “delighted” to see more countries now preparing to join the European military force, Takuba, calling the region on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert “crucial for the whole Europe.”
He made no reference to continued anti-French protests -- one is scheduled to take place in Bamako, Mali on Wednesday and another is planned for later this week.
Read more: Macron Is Paying the Price for France’s Bloody History in Africa
With local elections scheduled for this year, and a presidential ballot in 2020, Macron is set to attend a summit in N’Djamena, Chad, in the spring with the leaders of Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso to discuss the future of the force.
The U.S. is a key French ally in the region, and President-elect Joe Biden’s intentions would likely also figure into any change of strategy.
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