A new security-structure for the Sahel

In June, shortly after having won the second round of the French presidential election, Emanuel Macron went to Africa. As his first foreign visit after the election, he choose an area that France has been involved in for a very long time.

His choice of destination was no accident.

The meeting in Bamako, capital of Mali, was set up to pledge French support for a new military force to combat the on-going and raising threat of Islamist violence in the Sahel. Alongside France were Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso, the so called G5 Sahel.

France pledged combat support for the new force and all of the participating African countries promised to contribute 750 soldiers each to the new force. The main area of operation will be the borderlands between Mail, Niger and Burkina Faso.

France, of course, already has a military presence in the area. At least 5000 troops in Operation Barkhane based primarily in Chad (who has the best trained, battle-hardened and equipped force among the five) and Mali. The US Africa Command (Africom) is also involved with technical support, training and transportation.

From a strategic point of view, the new force (who can also rely on a UN Security Council Resolution from June that approved establishing it) could be a significant tool to bolster security in the area. However, to be fully effective and to really make a difference, it needs to be able to cooperate more efficiently with some key-countries in North Africa, such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Of these, Algeria and Morocco are key-players, being on the front-lines of both countering violent Islamism and trying to put the lid on the increasing smuggling of people and goods across the region and into Europe.

The involvement of Algeria and Morocco are necessary for any transnational effort to succeed and in addition, Morocco is considered to have one of the best counter-terrorist capabilities in the region (including Sahel and Maghreb) and can, if the right conditions are implemented, be an additional asset to the G5 Sahel force. One such condition is a Moroccan long-running initiative to counter the Islamists also from a religious angle. Time will tell whether these efforts will have a long-term effect in denting the lure of Islamist ideology, but it is nevertheless an effort worth considering, as a tool among many.


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