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French soldiers during the Operation Barkhane (Source:ération_Barkhane.jpg)

The End of the Operation Barkhane, New Perspectives on the Territory

29 June 2021

On 10 June, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of the French forces from the Sahel region. Operation Barkhane started back in August 2014 after Operation Serval, which was deployed to support the Malian government in 2013. Operation Barkhane was based on the partnership between France and the countries of the Sahel G5, namely Burkina-Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, to address the rising presence of Islamist terrorism in the territory. The main strategy was to give the possibility and the means to the Sahel G5 countries to develop both national and regional strategies to fight terrorism autonomously (Ministère des Armées, 2019). The French approach was based not only on security in a strict way but also on politics and development in a broader sense.

The Sahel G5 was founded in 2014. It brings together the heads of State of the five regional countries; its goal is to enhance the cooperation in the territory to address security matters, which might affect the stability of the region, as terrorism. 

The destiny of Operation Barkhane resulted in being uncertain during the past years. If at the beginning the Operation was welcomed favourably by both the population of the Sahel G5 countries and the French citizens, over the years, a feeling of mistrust became prevalent when discussing the future of the mission. Indeed, the French military presence in the region was seen more and more frequently in France as a waste of resources, both from an economic point of view considering that France was investing over a billion per year, and also from the human one since 55 soldiers died, and in Africa as a form of neocolonialism (McKenzie, Swails, Smith-Spark, 2020).

Already in February 2021, the French President announced his will to reduce the national presence in the territory, though, he stated that a “massive withdrawal of men […] would be a mistake” (France 24, 10 June 2021). However, during the press conference on 10 June, Macron declared the end of Operation Barkahane and the withdrawal of the troops by the end of June. At present, the French presence in the region amounts to 5100 soldiers spread across five different countries (Sahel G5 countries). The reasons that pushed the French government to take these decisions are several; as already mentioned, the general view on the mission was deteriorating year after year, due to the high financial expenditure, the high number of soldiers who lost their lives while fighting, and to the fact that no satisfactory results have been achieved during the almost 10 years presence of the French troops in the Sahel. In fact, at present, the Islamist forces keep causing high instability in the territory (Vandoorne, Siad, 10 June 2021).

In late May this year, a military coup happened in Mali, when colonel Assimi Goita was declared the new president by Mali’s constitutional court (Salaün, Irish, 10 June 2021). This coup raised concerns about the political instability of the region. Both France and the United States stressed that this political crisis might worsen the already unstable situation of the country while easing the actions of regional affiliated of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State[1]. As a result of this situation, Macron underlined in the press conference that France could not keep wasting its financial and human resources in countries that are not ready to take the necessary commitments and responsibilities in the fight against terrorism. Furthermore, the French President stressed that his country cannot accept cooperating with powers that keep working together with the same terrorist forces that are killing his people.

Moreover, Macron’s decision to withdraw the French troops from the region was pushed by the death the Chadian President Idriss Deby in late April. This loss represented a dangerous political vacuum in Central Africa, which might exacerbate a great degree of political instability, and, therefore, a good possibility for the terrorist groups to gain presence in the region (CNN, 29 May 2021).

All the latest events, among which the massive car bomb attack, which targeted French forces in the Malian town of Gossi on 21 June after Macron’s announcement (France 24, 21 June 2021), show how there is the need of reorganizing the international presence in the region. Moreover, the unstable situation of the Sahel is made worse by climate change and poverty that are deeply affecting the territory (France 24, 10 June 2021).

French President Macron underlined that the end of Operation Barkhane does not mean the end of the French presence in the territory. The Task Force Takuba, working in Mali, Niger and Burkina-Faso from 2020, will remain where several hundred French forces work together with other European troops.

Marcon underlined the need for a renewal of the international forces to ensure stability. Consultations are expected to happen in the months to come to understand how international cooperation between both European Countries and NATO Members States can result in new possible outcomes in the region.

As a matter of fact, in the latest NATO summit held in Brussels on 14 June, the situation in the Sahel had been addressed. The political instability of the region is a matter of international concern and collective security since it poses different challenges. NATO stressed the importance of establishing a deep relationship with both the regional countries, namely the G5 Sahel group, but also with other structures like the United Nations and the European Union to enhance the international engagement in the region (NATO, 14 June 2021).

The future of the Sahel keeps remaining uncertain. However, it is sure that it will be based on more international cooperation to face several matters, from terrorism to climate change and human rights breaches, that deeply affect the region.

Written by Beatrice GOBBO, Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre


Analisi Difesa, “La fine dell’Operation Barkhane: Parigi inizia il ritiro dal Sahel,”, 14 June 2021, [online]. Available at:

CNN, “Mali’s top court declares coup leader Goita as interim president,” 29 May 2021, [online]. Available at:

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France 24, “The Sahel: Terror, poverty and climate change,”10 June 2021, [online]. Available at:

McKenzie, Swails, Smith-Spark, “Why the Mali coup could worry Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron,” CNN, 19 August 2020, [online]. Available at:

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Vandoorne, Siad, “Macron announces end of France’s anti-terror Operation Barkhane in Africa’s Sahel region, CNN, 10 June 2021, [online]. Available at: