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French President Emmanuel Macron formally ended France’s decade-long military operation to fight jihadist fighters in Africa’s Sahel region, part of the country’s shifting of its strategic priorities against the backdrop of the Ukraine war and China’s growing assertiveness, the BBC reported.
During a speech at the naval base in Toulon, France, Macron said some French troops will remain in the Sahel, adding that France is working with host countries there to set up new arrangements.
At its peak, Operation Barkhane saw about 5,500 French soldiers deployed to Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania. The operation’s goal was to help local governments fight an increasingly strong Islamist insurgency and to foster stronger partnerships with Sahel nations.
But the campaign was put on hold after the 2020 coup in Mali, which brought to power a military junta hostile to France.
In February, the French army began its withdrawal from Mali with the last troops leaving on Aug. 15. Currently, around 3,000 troops are expected to remain in Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso, although they can only operate in coordinated actions with national armies.
Analysts said the operation failed in large part due to France’s worsening image in the Sahel – a region it previously had colonized – following disinformation campaigns believed to be financed by Russia.
Meanwhile, Macron also called for European strategic autonomy and better cooperation with the United Kingdom.
His speech came as France’s defense ministry published a review this week that proposes to alter the country’s military strategies and goals.
The new National Strategic Review described a “fracturing of the world order” that requires new military responses: It proposed a new model for 2030 that would see France equipped with “the capacities to confront … an eventual return to high-intensity inter-state conflict, and the hybrid strategies deployed by our rivals.”
The review also calls for new efforts to boost national resilience and preparedness for a shift to a war economy.