Earlier this week, at the Military School in Paris, in front of senior military officials, Florence Parly detailed her priorities for the coming months. At the very beginning of its list, appears the operation of “re-articulation” of the French military device in the Saharo-Sahelian band (the BSS), whose go was given “at the beginning of September”, confirms a good source.
With the end of the rainy season, a complex and large-scale logistical maneuver has begun, even as combat missions continue. It must end at the end of the year, in accordance with the calendar decreed by the President of the Republic at the beginning of the summer.
“Not a disengagement”
“Mali is not Afghanistan”, takes care to specify his entourage. France intervened there in 2013, at the request of the country’s authorities, and it does not intend to leave it. “It is not a disengagement”, they still say. If political relations between Paris and Bamako have worsened since Colonel-President Goïta’s “double coup” – in August 2020 and May 2021 – and still seem “difficult”, this would not affect military cooperation, deemed “ excellent ”by operational staff.
Involving considerable logistical resources, both land, air and sea, the maneuver aims to reduce Paris’ military footprint. Barkhane’s 5,100 men will be reduced to a contingent of 2,500 to 3,000 men, and repositioned according to a new operational logic. The rights-of-way of northern Mali will be abandoned and transferred to the Malian army (the Fama) and to the peacekeepers of the Minusma.
The bulk of the forces will be gathered in Gao and Ménaka, in the heart of the “three borders” zone – between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – where the katiba of the Islamic State in the Great Sahara (EIGS), affiliated Daesh, even weakened, remains a threat, and where the European Takuba force is gaining strength. It lines up 600 men, half of them French special forces, who support half a dozen Malian shock companies, the ULRIs. After the arrival of the Swedes, Estonians and Czechs, Danes, Italians, Portuguese, Hungarians and Norwegians are expected.
In Niamey, where hunters and drones are stationed, the base will be strengthened to constitute an element of “reassurance” of European and local partners. For the moment, the PC is not leaving N’Djamena, in Chad. France is betting on a new concept to “hold” the Sahel. And reassure the border countries, designated targets of the katibas of RVIM, the franchise of Al Qaeda established in North Mali, which is already claiming its victory.