Soldiers deployed to the France-led Operation Barkhane in Africa’s Sahel region have conducted a number of joint operations with local forces against armed terrorist groups, the French Armed Forces Ministry said on Thursday.
Since January 2, more than 1,000 troops from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S), and Barkhane took part in actions in the Liptako-Gourma region – covering parts of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso – the January 16 release said.
Half of the troops involved were from local partners.
In coordination with partner forces, Barkhane was “tasked with controlling the Tessit sector, and more broadly a large part of the eastern part of the Gourma,” and along with the Malian Armed Forces controlled the In-Delimane sector in the Liptako, while the FCG5S, was tasked with reconnaissance and control of the south.
“The coordination and allocation of a sector for each force made it possible to cover a large area,” destabilising the armed terrorist groups’ networks and blocking their logistical flows, the release said.
The operation was marked by a helicopter-borne operation involving nearly 150 French soldiers “which made it possible to comb a vast area near the Burkinabé border over several days.”
Throughout the operation, the FCG5S blocked any insurgents seeking to escape across the border.
“These operations made it possible to put about fifteen terrorists out of action, and to seize or destroy three pick-ups, seven motorcycles, about 20 weapons including PKM [machine guns], 10 AK-47 [assault rifles], more than 4,500 [rounds of] ammunition and various other materials,” the ministry said, adding that an ISIS flag was also seized.
“These operations, like the previous ones, contribute to draining the resources of armed terrorist groups, and to disrupt their logistics, thus weakening their entire organization.”
A week earlier, the ministry said that more than 50 “terrorists” were “put out of action” in a series of operations conducted in Mali between December 20 and January 5.
News of the joint operations comes just days after President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the G5 Sahel states announced a new Coalition for the Sahel which will see increased coordination between French and local forces. Military efforts will focus on the Burkina Faso-Mali-Niger tri-border zone, with Barkhane and the FCG5S operating under joint command and targeting Islamic State as a priority.
The Sahel Coalition will be the “catalyst for enhanced coordination intended to shorten the decision-making process, in particular to provide partners with more rapid support, and to promote the flow of intelligence,” the ministry said in a separate release.
Macron also announced that 220 more troops would sent to the Sahel to reinforce Operation Barkhane. The ministry said the deployment would comprise experienced troops who are “accustomed to operating in the Sahel.”
Former colonial power France began its current military intervention in the Sahel in 2013 with Operation Serval in Mali. Serval evolved in August 2014 into Operation Barkhane, with a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the sub-Saharan region. Roughly 4,500 French troops are already deployed, focusing activity in insurgent-hit Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
French troops work alongside other international operations in the Sahel, including the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force, which comprises troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, and MINUSMA, the United Nations stabilization mission in Mali.
Barkhane has a growing international dimension, with European partners contributing troops and equipment. Denmark deployed two Merlin helicopters that became operational in late December and Estonia is to almost double the size of its Barkhane contingent this year. Chinook helicopters from the United Kingdom currently support the operation.
Many armed groups including Islamic State are active in the Sahel region, but the majority of attacks are attributed to JNIM, which formed in March 2017 from a merger of several smaller groups. JNIM’s leadership has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But Macron said the Sahel Coalition would prioritize the fight against ISIS in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area because it is the most dangerous.
ISIS previously attributed attacks by affiliated militants in the Sahel to ISGS, but since May 2019, ISIS has attributed insurgent activities in the tri-border area to ISWAP, its West Africa Province affiliate that split from Boko Haram in 2016. ISWAP’s main area of operations is the Lake Chad area of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.