Barkhane, Takuba, Saber: French and European military missions in the Sahel

France is preparing to announce the withdrawal of its military mission in Mali, Operation Barkhane, after nine years of fighting jihadists in the region. At the behest of the Malian authorities, France launched an intervention in January 2013 to expel the Islamists who had controlled much of the north.

Half of the 4,500 French soldiers currently deployed are stationed at Operation Barkhane in Malibut, and will leave the country soon after coming under pressure from Mali’s new military leaders, who seized power in a coup in 2020.

Against the backdrop of growing anti-French sentiment in the Sahel – and after the expulsion of the French ambassador to Mali in January – Paris announced that it wanted to rely increasingly on the Takoba Task Force, a European military unit, to relieve pressure on the French. Army.

“It is clear that the situation cannot continue like this,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France Info radio on 1 February. He said Paris and its Takubamission partners would together decide on changes to the military deployment in Mali.

Paris also relies on regional allies, notably Niger and Chad, to keep fighting the jihadist rebels.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Said on Monday.

After nine years of French military intervention and the killing of 53 French soldiers in the Sahel, France 24 has taken a look at the French and European military presence in the region.

Operation Barkhane in Mali: At the request of the Malian government, France launched Operation Serval on January 11, 2013, to disrupt the advance of a convoy of jihadists and Tuareg rebels towards the capital, Bamako.

The following year, France established Operation Barkhane, which became the longest French overseas military operation since the end of the Algerian War. Has deployed up to 5,500 soldiers in Mali, Niger and Chad in partnership with the five countries in the Sahel-Saharan region (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad).

According to data published by the French Ministry of Defense in December 2021, Operation Barkhane has three military bases in northern Mali. The headquarters is located in Gao and has combat helicopters, troops (known as GTD, “Desert Tactics Groups” or Tactical Desert Forces) and heavy armored vehicles.

Gao is where the bulk of the French military presence is based in Mali, supported by elements of the Takoba Task Force, which includes 800 soldiers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. Half of this task force is made up of French soldiers. Three British heavy-lift CH-47 Chinook helicopters have also been deployed to Gao since mid-July 2018.

French and European presence in Mali © Creative Department – France Médias Monde Two other forward operating bases (bases created to deter jihadist forces) are located in the desert expanses of northern Mali. The Takuba Task Force has been operating in Menaka since March 2021, as well as the Swedish Rapid Response Helicopter Force. The French army also has a tactical unit in Josie. Finally, in Ansongothere there is a light reconnaissance and intervention unit which is part of Takuba.

Between October and December 2021, French forces withdrew from Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu. In early January 2022, Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group moved to the Timbuktu military base.

Redeployment of forces in Niger and Chad: Outside of Mali, French forces have two permanent military bases in this region. The first is in Niamey, the capital of Niger, where the main air base of Operation Barkhane is located. Along with six Reaper drones and seven Mirage combat aircraft, a combat unit also occupies this base, which is located near the so-called Three Border Zone (the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger).

Operation eruption outside Mali © Creative Department – France Médias Monde

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly traveled to Niamey at the beginning of February for talks with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum. As a reliable French ally in the region, Niger could play a central role in the new military arrangement.

To the east, in Chad, is Operation Barkhane’s command post. An air base is located in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. With five to eight transport aircraft, it performs essential logistical missions with a range covering five million square kilometers (10 times the size of France).

Strong French military presence in West Africa In the last week, the French government reaffirmed its willingness to continue the fight against the spread of jihad in the Gulf of Guinea, which has already been seen in northern Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin.

The attacks last week in northern Benin, which left at least nine people dead, including a French, undoubtedly reinforced this decision. The French army also announced on February 12 that it had eliminated 40 jihadists in Burkina Faso who were involved in the attacks in Benin.

Paris has a strong and long-standing military presence on the West African coast to combat movements affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

French military bases in West Africa © Creative Department – France Médias Monde In Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, there are 950 soldiers at the French base. According to the French Ministry of Defense, these forces “constitute a major strategic, operational and logistical platform on the West African coast, also known as a forward operating base.”

In Gabon, 350 soldiers housed in Camp de Guliners at Libreville Airport were positioned to respond to any situation. In Senegal, the French army has 350 men at Ouakam and in the military port of Dakar as well as at an airstrip.

In the Sahel region, Operation Saber is also based near Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Since 2009, 350 to 400 soldiers of the French special forces have been stationed there. Most of the jihadist leaders killed in recent years were eliminated through the operations carried out by this unit.

This article was translated from the original into French.

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