“The situation is becoming more and more difficult militarily” in Mali, with jihadists “advancing towards the capital”, Bamako, explained Michel Galy, geopolitician and specialist in sub-Saharan Africa, on Monday August 15 to franceinfo, during the Élysée announced the departure of the country of the last French soldiers of the Barkhane force.
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franceinfo: Why this withdrawal of French troops announced a few months ago? Does France consider the Islamist movements defeated?
Michael Gall: Not at all, but there is a new front: the Malian military government, emerged from a coup, which is increasingly anti-French and even anti-Western. This government effected the withdrawal of the Barkhane force from Mali.
Did Emmanuel Macron have no other choice?
Somehow. The French President has chosen to favor Niger for deploying the Barkhane forces in new forms. And since this Barkhane force is present in five countries, he has also chosen to downsize, negotiate new forms of cooperation or military installations with coastal countries such as Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin. But it won’t be won because anti-French sentiment is growing across West Africa, and particularly in the Sahel.
What were France’s mistakes during those nine years of Operation Barkhane?
There were many mistakes, initially with a certain arrogance on the part of the French leadership. They had a desire to control the political calendar, as they did when President François Hollande pushed through the date of the presidential elections, and a desire to marginalize national armies, which is not hard to stomach in any country. President Emmanuel Macron learned this lesson. However, the situation between public opinion and French leaders is escalating.
Has the situation changed much in the nine years since Operation Barkhane was launched?
It’s a complicated question. The Malian forces have become more professional, while at the end of 2012 they did not even exist. But the jihadists have made progress: at that time they were mainly holding northern Mali with the separatists or Tuareg separatists. Now they have established themselves in central Mali, notably with the Katiba Macina group. And they are moving towards the capital. The situation is becoming more and more difficult militarily.
Would you say that Mali could become a terrorist stronghold again in the next few weeks?
As a matter of fact. As at the end of 2012, the jihadist groups are aiming for what the first French intervention provoked Serval: the capture of the capital. There were attacks near Bamako. And they’re attacking everywhere, in Mali, but also in Burkina Faso, where the situation is even more difficult.