Deja Vu: France Forever War in Sahel?

Source: Morocco World News

It has been 20 years since France has been dealing with the war in Africa. The war is mainly against three nations- Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. It is brutal and, over the years, has spread throughout vast lands and deserts of the Sahara known as the Sahel. The jihadi related violence has forced almost two million people to leave their homes behind, and still, the battle is hardly finished.

France now finds itself in a similar situation as the United States did in Iraq and Afghanistan- unaware of the battlefield and spending billions to win over the jihadist and local population. With the backing of leaders in the region, France President Macron added about 600 more soldiers in operation Barkhane- a mini-surge to push pack jihadi led militia. However, France has won tactical battles, particularly against Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, working alongside local forces.

Yet French troops have been able to hammer the militants linked to the Islamic State. It has not been able to push back groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, which has continued its deadly attacks on the region. Moreover, it all seems to be a Deja Vu. France is finding itself similar to the United States in the Middle East. On February 16, after a summit with the leaders of Sahel, President Macron promised not to withdraw all the troops from the region immediately but said it's not a 'forever war'. Last, a report published by the NYTimes reported how the French lack support from its European allies and the United States- who under Trump called its troops back home.

The region's own armies seem to be improved since 2013 when all the area was dominated by various jihadist groups. But they cannot achieve it without French support. There are some doubts about what outside troops can achieve- as western countries have already learned their lesson from Afghanistan and Somalia. Ultimately the result of this fight is in the hands of the local government. If these governments can win and regain trust over local/rural populations, they see jihadi less corrupt than local officials. Then there is some hope. The government of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso need to provide basic needs to its people like clean water, education and healthcare.

Another strategy could involve the French government playing as a mediator between the local government and the jihadist groups resulting in a ceasefire. This would include peace talks between various leaders resulting in peace and a starting point, allowing teachers and nurses to return.

It is unrealistic to see the French government allowing its troops to carry on the war taking all the burden on its shoulders. With a little support from European allies and support from local troops, the war may not be a 'forever war' for France.

-Kabir Kalia

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