Today, Niger hosts Niger Air Base 201—the US’s largest drone base (Jones, 2023), located in the city of Agadez—which is used to monitor extremist groups (Gordon, 2023), and to which, “as a precautionary measure” (Mitchell, 2023) after 26 July, the US repositioned a portion of its personnel. Following the coup, which the US only acknowledged as such on 10 October (Miller, 2023), monitoring drone flights were suspended; as of mid-September, they have slowly and discreetly resumed (Gordon, 2023).
On 26 July 2023, the military seized power in Niger. General Abdourahamane Tchiani, leader of the Presidential Guard, declared himself head of state, completing the second coup d’état that the country has seen in the last decade, and the fifth since its independence. Four days later, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued a one-week ultimatum to the junta: they demanded that President Mohamed Bazoum be restored to power, threatening to impose sanctions and to “use military force in Niger if necessary”.
This Info Flash outlines the history of Operation Barkhane, offering a general overview of French and European efforts to maintain stability in the Sahel region over the past ten years. The principal causes of France’s disengagement are analysed taking into account external factors, such as the Russian-Ukrainian war at the end of February 2022. Because of the sensibility of this issue, Professor Luca Ranieri, one of the most prominent scholars dealing with security problems in the Sahel region, builds in an interview a critical assessment of Operation Barkhane. Understanding the main weaknesses of this initiative poses extreme usefulness in order to avoid repeating the same errors in the future.
On August 15, 2022, the last French soldiers involved in Operation Barkhane left Malian territory. The operation began nearly a decade earlier and had the primary objective of fighting against terrorist groups in the region (Burgess, 2018, p. 5). The situation in Mali, however, appears worse now than before. Jihadist violence continues to escalate, anti-Western sentiment runs rampant, and Russian Wagner mercenaries have established a firm footing in the country.
Worry has spread across the world as relations between Mali and France have been steadily breaking down. Last July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that his country would be putting an end to Operation Barkhane (aimed at fighting jihadism in the Sahel in collaboration with the Sahel G5) as soon as the beginning of 2022. The French government reckons that its operation is not well adapted enough to the region’s needs and requires a transformation to combat ever-evolving threats. As a result, more than 2,500 French soldiers out of 5,000 are currently being withdrawn from the Sahel. The goal is to reintegrate them, to serve as the backbone of the European Takuba Task Force.