France is to send 220 experienced troops who are “accustomed to operating in the Sahel” to reinforce its Operation Barkane mission, the Armed Forces Ministry said, adding that the deployment may evolve and work alongside a planned international special operations force.
President Emmanuel Macron announced the deployment of additional French troops to Africa’s Sahel region on Monday.
“This reinforcement will respond to the need to step up our efforts in the “three borders” region, as part of the zonal approach to Barkhane,” the ministry said in its Thursday, January 16 weekly update on French military operations.
The new units will be land-based, and “composed of seasoned troops, experienced and accustomed to operating in the Sahel,” the release said.
The deployment will “reinforce the fight against armed terrorist groups” within a framework of “genuine combat partnership with local forces.”
“It will also enable Barkhane to respond even more effectively to requests for assistance from the G5 Sahel forces,” the ministry added.
Further information on the French troops to be sent to the Sahel, the area they will deploy to, and the timetable for deployment will remain confidential.
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.
New deployment may evolve, work alongside Takuba
French troops work alongside other international operations in the Sahel, including the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force (FCG5S), which comprises troops from Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania, and MINUSMA, the United Nations stabilization mission in Mali.
On Monday, 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 the long term, the form and missions of this reinforcement may evolve so that Barkhane, which is constantly adapting, can welcome and promote the deployment of our partners, in particular within the framework of the Coalition, and alongside Task Force Takuba,” the ministry said.
France has for months been trying to build support for a new international task force called “Takuba.”
French plans for the new Sahel force were first reported in early October, and on November 5, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said that France expected the new force to deploy in Mali by 2020.
The precise role of Task Force Takuba is unclear, but it appears to be modeled on the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams operating in Afghanistan, with the aim of improving on the basic training of local forces, freeing up Barkhane personnel and enabling them to focus on pursuing insurgents and preventing attacks.
Estonia was the first partner to confirm a special operations forces deployment to Takuba. A defense ministry spokesperson told The Defense Post in November that special forces will deploy to Mali in the second half of 2020 and that force will “assist, advise and accompany” the Malian Armed Forces. Belgium and the Czech Republic have also signaled that they will participate, but the U.S. and Germany have declined.
Barkhane already has an 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.
The release noted that Barkhane forces had in the past week conducted a “large-scale joint operation with our partners in the G5 Sahel” in the Liptako-Gourma region, a wide area of the three bordering countries.