Insurgent groups linked to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have assaulted four military bases in Mali and Nigeria over the past four months, killing over 300 soldiers. The ongoing instability in the region poses a significant threat to French interests in the region and may result in the collapse of the security situation in the greater part of West Africa.
France deployed its troops in Mali in 2013 at the request of the Malian government to expel rebel groups, which managed to dominate a great part of the country. The operation, which was supposed to be just a matter of “a few weeks”, has become a gruelling, over seven-year-long intervention, with no end in sight, as a result of ongoing armed clashes. This situation is reminiscent of the US position in Afghanistan or Iraq, where US troops found themselves in a never-ending conflict despite an initial military victory.
Even the threats of President Macron at the summit with the presidents of West Africa to withdraw its 4,500 troops from the region unless they helped to calm the situation among domestic residents, had not helped to ease the situation. Later, however, he declared his determination to fight even more vigorously against these groups and committed himself to increase the 4500-member French contingent by another 600 soldiers. There are also 15,000 UN mission agents in the area and further 3,000 troops promised by the African Union should contribute to the reinforcement of the operation. The US, on the other hand, is considering withdrawing its troops from the region. The United States justifies this move by the need to strategically redirect its attention towards China and Russia.
The situation, therefore, has several possible solutions. Either the position of France in the region will be strengthened with the US participation and rebel groups will be defeated or at least significantly weakened. The second option is that France, like the United States, will conclude that this “war” exhausts it on all fronts while the mission’s achievements are minimal and thus withdraw from the region. Such a move would not only greatly weaken the overall struggle against the rebels but would also allow Russia or China to gain strategic positions and influence in the region. In addition to the deterioration of the security situation in much of West Africa, this could also lead to an unprecedented collapse of French influence primarily in favour of Russia, which is already actively diplomatically involved in the region.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: František Tóth
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