France to restructure anti-terrorist military presence in Africa

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 As Libya implodes and the insurgency flares up again in Mali, the region looks at how to tackle its security issues.

 

The Sahara desert


New French Mechanism

French Defence Minister, Jean Yves Le Drian, arrived in Nouakchott, Mauritania on May 12th at the end  of a sub-regional tour which had taken him to Abidjan (Cote d’Ivoire) and Dakar (Senegal), His trip came against the backdrop of a resurgence in the activities of terrorist groups in Mali, Mauritania’s neighbour with whom it shares a border of over 2,000 km

Pockets of al-Qaeda-linked fighters are still holding out across the north of Mali, more than a year after the French offensive aimed at driving them from the desert region they occupied for most of 2012 after hijacking a rebellion by Touareg separatists.

France is also extremely worried by the situation in Libya where more than two-and-a-half years after the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafy, the oil-rich North African state is struggling to contain violence between rival forces, and Al-Qaeda-linked fighters are gaining ground in the south.

“France has decided to reorganize its military presence in this part of Africa to meet the challenges in the fight against terrorism and insecurity,” he announced. “This insecurity is caused by terrorist groups that disrupt the entire sub-region and prevent states from achieving economic development.”

In Cote d’Ivoire, where he met with President Alassane Ouattara, Le Drian said that the French force in Abidjan, the Licorne Force, which has been there since 2002, was going to change its status from the beginning of 2015. It would become a base for the new French mechanism, its numbers would increase from 500 to 800 soldiers. It would be able to launch strikes and would serve as the mission’s logistical hub.

G5 Approval

French defence officials say the new phase in operations, recently approved by the Sahel Group of Five (G5), will allow their forces to operate freely across borders to strike the armed groups. The G5 consists of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad,which are regarded as the front line nations in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel.

French forces will now be based in four regional centres. Some will be in Gao in northern Mali, others in Niger’s capital Niamey, where French surveillance drones are based, and in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou, where until now special forces have launched raids into the desert. The fourth centre will be in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, where the operations will be coordinated.

The minister said 1,000 soldiers would remain in Mali and 3,000 in the Sahel-Sahara zone, and that the force would be there “for as long as necessary.”

Terrorism expert Sidati Ould Cheikh told Magharebia that Le Drian’s visit was part of co-ordination efforts organised by France to improve security operations in the Sahel region. Analyst Abdou Ould Mohamed said, “In the wake of France’s military operation [in Mali], Operation Serval, the situation on the ground has changed and despite the severe blows inflicted on the terrorists, they are still there and are becoming more elusive.” A new combat strategy is needed to “tackle the final hard core more effectively”, Magharebia quoted him as saying.

Le Drian also visited Algeria on May 21st-22nd to co-ordinate military efforts and discusses terrorist threats. “This is about the security of countries concerned, whether Mali, Niger, Algeria, or France and Europe,” the French official said. “It is the same battle and the same interests,” he noted.

Le Drian met with army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah to discuss the situation in Libya and Mali. Algeria recently closed its border with Libya and shut down its diplomatic mission there.

Security Meetings

Countries in the region have held multiple meetings recently to try and develop intelligence-sharing and pool resources.

About security 100 experts from the G5 countries held a three-day meeting starting May 18th in Nouakchott and Interior Ministers followed that with their own meeting.

Foreign ministers of the G5 joined by Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra met in Bamako and Mr Lamamra subsequently went on a tour of all the G5 member countries.

Intelligence and security chiefs from across the Sahel met in Ouagadougou to discuss shared concerns on May 19th and 20th. Delegates came from the “Nouakchott Process” countries – Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea.

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