France’s action in the Sahel

France's action in the Sahel

G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – face a number of challenges, including the growing threat of terrorism and organized crime, climate change and demographic growth. These are leading causes of fragility in the region. As shared challenges, they must be addressed from the political, military and development perspectives.

France and its European and international partners are fully committed to supporting the Sahel States in their efforts to address these challenges.

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Partnerships at the request of African countries

Since the outset of the security crisis in the Sahel, France has been strongly committed to curbing the terrorist threat.

In 2012, terrorist and radical movements threatened Mali’s national integrity and security, and could have taken long-term control over swathes of its territory.

At the request of Mali’s Government, France launched Operation Serval on 11 January 2013 to push back the terrorist groups in North Mali, supporting troops from Mali and other African States. UN Security Council Resolution 2085 of 20 December 2012 highlighted the need for UN Member States such as France to support Mali in its efforts to restore peace and security.

To respond to the constant and widespread presence of terrorist groups across the region, Operation Barkhane replaced Operation Serval on 1 August 2014. Barkhane seeks more generally to provide the support of French forces to the G5 Sahel Member States in the fight against terrorism. In this framework, French forces work closely with those of the Sahel States. In 2020, French special forces will be deployed in Mali, along with those of European partners, under the command of Operation Barkhane, forming the joint unit Task Force Takuba in order to support the Malian armed forces.

Along with other international partners, France is engaged in the Sahel, at Europe’s southern border, to stop the area becoming a hotbed of instability because of the growth of terrorist groups and various forms of illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons or people, or migrant smuggling, for example, which could also threaten its own security.

LFrench military support in the Sahel

4,500 French military personnel deployed
75 cooperation officers for security system reform
8,700 African soldiers trained
120 combat operations in 2018
€14 million in equipment donations

The Barkhane force takes a partnership approach, working alongside the national armies of the Sahel-Sahara strip to enable the Sahel States to acquire the capacity to guarantee their own security autonomously. It works alongside:

The G5 Sahel joint force

The G5 Sahel is an intergovernmental cooperation framework created on 16 February 2014 at the initiative of the Mauritanian Chairmanship of the African Union. Based in Nouakchott, Mauritania, it seeks to fight insecurity and support development with a view to opening up the region.

On 2 July 2017, the G5 Sahel leaders officially launched the Cross-Border Joint Force in Bamako, pooling their resources to fight security threats in the Sahel region. The United Nations Security Council welcomed the creation of this Joint Force in Resolution 2359 of 21 June 2017, which was sponsored by France. The Joint Force has been endorsed by the African Union Peace and Security Committee and fights terrorism, cross-border organized crime and human trafficking in the G5 Sahel zone. It carried out its first operation in November 2017 with the armies of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. At full operational capability, the Joint Force will have 5,000 soldiers (seven battalions spread across three zones: West, Centre and East). It is active in a 50km strip on either side of the countries’ shared borders. The Force has already carried out 17 successful joint operations.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

MINUSMA’s mandate is to support the implementation of the Algiers Peace Agreement, to protect civilians and to support the efforts of the Malian authorities to stabilize their country. With its 15,162 civilian and military personnel, MINUSMA is an essential component of the international presence in Mali, especially in the north and centre of the country. The relationship between the Joint Force and MINUSMA is governed by UN Security Council Resolution 2391 of 8 December 2017, under which the latter provides operational and logistical support to the former.

European missions: EUTM Mali, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger

EUTM Mali provides EU training in Mali. It has been advising and training the Malian armed forces since 2013, to restore their capacity to conduct operations to re-establish the country’s territorial integrity and to improve border control in cooperation with their G5 Sahel partners, thus reducing the terrorist threat.

EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger are civilian missions assisting the countries’ internal security forces through training, strategic advice and equipment.

Coordinated diplomacy, defence and development activities

The terrorist threat is intrinsically linked to the economic, educational, health and institutional challenges facing the region. This is why it is important to facilitate momentum towards peace and sustainable reconstruction on solid foundations, in addition to providing immediate support to local armed forces. As such, the “3D” approach is developed jointly by defence, diplomacy and development stakeholders.

Diplomatic action

Through its diplomatic network, France, which is present in the five Sahel countries and international organizations, has been advocating for material and human support in the region among its partners (States, EU, UN). The conference of 13 December 2017 to finance the G5 Sahel Joint Force mobilized the main international stakeholders in the Sahel, and the Brussels Conference of 23 February 2018 raised €414 million of international funding.

Within the EU, France supported the creation of the civilian missions EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger, as well as the EUTM Mali training mission. At the UN Security Council, France provided political support for the creation and deployment of the MINUSMA.

Diplomatic efforts seek to foster peace on the ground, supporting dialogue between all parties with regard to the implementation of the 2015 Algiers Peace Agreement (Malian Government and signatory groups). The aim is to find a long-term political and development solution for Mali.

Through its Crisis and Support Centre CDCS), the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs also finances a dozen stabilization projects on the ground, ranging from mine clearance to supporting institutions and local governance by training officials, as well as supporting the media and promoting citizenship.

Development support

If the security response is not combined with a development approach, it will not succeed in resolving the crises which have arisen due to structural challenges.

The Agence Française de Développement (AFD, French Development Agency) and other French agencies are supporting short-, medium- and long-term projects through increased funding from the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs to improve access to basic services (water, energy, education and health) and support populations’ autonomy through training and employment.

In the Sahel Alliance framework, France is working alongside other major development donors. This partnership was launched by France, Germany and the EU, with support from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme. The Sahel Alliance brings together the major donors active in the region around the two-fold aim of improving aid coordination and effectiveness in an approach that combines addressing the emergency, stabilization and development.

The Alliance now has more than 800 projects that have been approved and are being implemented or processed, adding up to a total of €11.6 billion to implement. The members of the Alliance invested almost €1.9 billion in the G5 Sahel countries in 2018.

The Alliance’s priorities are young people, agriculture, access to energy, basic services and governance.

Strengthening European engagement and better coordinating the fight against terrorism

In addition to taking part in European missions in the Sahel, many European States, including Estonia, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, are also contributing to the fight against terrorism within Operation Barkhane on a voluntary basis.

France advocates an increase in EU ambition with regard to its relations with Africa, ahead of the African Union-EU Summit in 2020.

The Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel (P3S), promoted by France and Germany and presented during the Biarritz G7 Summit, aims to support efforts to redeploy government services and administrations, particularly internal security forces, and to strengthen the justice system in Sahel countries. It also aims to enhance coordination between the major partners in the region.

The P3S will initially focus on the G5 Sahel countries and existing cross-border initiatives, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the Accra Initiative. Lastly, the Dinard Partnership announced by France in April 2019 aims to combat trafficking in the Sahel, in synergy with the P3S.

« “Combating terrorism within the G5 Sahel zone is no longer enough. And to stop the threat spreading, the effort now needs to be extended to the neighbouring countries of the Sahel and regional coordination needs to be strengthened. […] The Sahel countries, their neighbours and their international partners, need to work together in the spirit of shared responsibility to address the threat and meet people’s needs. And the first of those needs is the return of security and justice.” (Jean-Yves Le Drian, 25 September 2019, 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly).

Find out more about France’s action in the Sahel

Last updated on: 14 February 2020
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