Far, very far from the ocher desert of the Sahel, it is in the castle of Pau that a crucial partition was played in the fight against the jihadists who are rampant on these arid lands, some 3,300 km away. A special diplomatic summit was held there on Monday. The five leaders of the countries concerned (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) were invited to this meeting by Emmanuel Macron in the wake of the crash of two helicopters from Operation Barkhane, on November 25. Among the thirteen soldiers killed, seven of them were from the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment (RHC), based in this city of Pau.
After a period of meditation, the six heads of state found themselves in the royal residence where Henri IV was born. Alone around a table in the officers' dining room, for a long explanation with broken sticks, without their delegations at first. Now is the time to talk about the "dropping out" of the Sahelian armed forces, who continue to suffer very heavy losses. Terrible reminder of the deteriorating security situation, this summit is held in the aftermath of the deadliest attack for the Nigerien army, in the Chinégodar camp, near Mali. 89 soldiers were killed.
Anti-French sentiment takes hold in Mali
They also discussed an angry subject: for months, an anti-French feeling has been instilled with Malian and Burkinabé public opinion. A state of mind that some political leaders seem to maintain with ambiguity… and which seriously irritates Paris. Friday, January 10, a thousand Malians demonstrated again in Bamako, their capital, to demand the departure of foreign troops, particularly French.
In high places, we expected from this meeting a joint declaration of the five countries which clearly assumes the French military presence. "It's so easy to say that the French army is a colonial army," said Emmanuel Macron, in a small committee, a few weeks ago. I don't want that for our soldiers in the countries where we are. I cannot send them to coal under these conditions. I want commitments. The expected statement was released after nearly three hours of interviews.
220 French soldiers to strengthen Barkhane force
In this text, the heads of state of the "G5" say black and white their wish for "the continuation of France's military engagement in the Sahel" and even plead for a "strengthening" of the international presence alongside them. To better coordinate the fight against terrorism, the leaders also decided to set up a "Sahel Coalition", placed under joint command. It will bring together the G5 countries, the Barkhane force, but also the countries and voluntary organizations.
The idea is to organize the ramp-up of the anti-terrorist system in the region, but also to re-specify the military objectives: efforts will now be concentrated in the Liptako-Gourma, the so-called "three borders" zone, on the borders of Mali , Burkina Faso and Niger. With a priority enemy: the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara. Emmanuel Macron also announced that 220 French soldiers will reinforce the 4,500 of the Barkhane force already mobilized.
In their statement, the leaders also thank the United States for their "crucial support" and express their wish to see it continue. Because Washington intends to reduce its resources in Africa (7,000 special forces are notably deployed there). The closure of a drone base in Agadez, in northern Niger, is of particular concern to Paris: it offers a leading surveillance platform in the Sahel. Emmanuel Macron said at the end of the summit that he "hopes to be able to convince" Donald Trump to maintain his military contingent in Africa. It is true that the prospect of this American disengagement is not likely to encourage the Europeans to engage more in this distant war.