West Africa’s ‚Afghanistan‘: France & Sahel Leaders Seek to Rekindle Anti-Jihad Campaign

Written by | Friday, July 3rd, 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron met with leaders from five West African countries on Tuesday (30 June) to take stock of a new strategy to intensify the fight against jihadist insurgents in the Sahel. In a meeting in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, the leaders reviewed a campaign that they rebooted in January after a string of reversals. Since then, the jihadists have been waging almost daily attacks, but they have also been under pressure, having lost a senior leader in a French raid and fighting internally. French President Emmanuel Macron said the summit sought to “consolidate the gains”, stressing that the six allies have achieved “real successes over the past six months, neutralising feared leaders” thanks to the “upscaling of intervention” by Sahel armies.
The French president hosted a summit earlier in January to help secure a stronger public commitment from Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania at a time of deepening concern in France after it lost 13 troops in a helicopter crash. The insurgency was launched in northern Mali in 2012, during a rebellion by Tuareg separatists, which was later overtaken by the jihadists. Despite the involvement of thousands of French and UN troops, the conflict spread to central Mali, neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, stirring feuds between ethnic groups and sparking fears for states farther south. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and the economies of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, already among the poorest in the world, have been severely damaged.
The summit, with representatives from the UN, African Union and European Union in attendance, focused on the assessment of affairs in the “three-border region,” a hotspot of jihadism where the frontiers of Burkina, Niger and Mali converge. France, which added 500 troops to its Sahel mission after the previous summit in January, is co-leading the campaign in this region, targeting an Islamic State-affiliated group led by Abou Walid al-Sahraoui. Last month, French special forces in northern Mali, assisted by a US drone, shot dead Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Despite this, problems in the Sahel run deep: local armies are poorly equipped and under-funded, troops are reportedly behind the killings and abuses of hundreds of civilians, and the government’s presence has all but disappeared in some areas.

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