France is looking for an exit strategy for the “Barkhane” mission in the Sahel

    France is looking for an exit strategy for the “Barkhane” mission in the Sahel

    Troops from Operation Barkhane in Hombori, in the Gourma Desert in Mali, in March 2019. DAPHNE BENOIT / AFP

    There are times when you have to know how to rejoice a little, congratulate each step like a big night. And at the end of the year, it is in Hombori, a village of ocher earth on the borders of the Gourma desert, located in the middle of the “three borders” zone between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, that the head of state- Major of the armies, François Lecointre, came to lend himself to the exercise. And this, while France is considering more and more seriously to initiate an exit for its 5,100 soldiers engaged in the Sahel, in a war which in eight years has taken on the appearance of a bottomless pit.

    Those to whom the general’s encouragement is addressed on this December 10, as part of a two-day inspection of the troops of Operation “Barkhane”, are wearing nothing but unnamed and unnamed green Réséda uniforms. stripes. Badly cut rough canvas trellises, exhumed from old stocks of the French army. But, on this day of official visit, they are wearing fine. They are between 18 and 22 years old. And, in the eyes of the strategists of “Barkhane”, they are the new face of the “elite” of the Malian army, such as they ambition.

    Before being projected here, between the invisible shadows of the jihadists and those of the sandstone cliffs of this former hotspot for Western climbers, most of these young recruits went through a “typical course”. They were first entitled to training provided by the UETM, a European Union mission, created in 2012. They were then taken over in early December by French soldiers from the 1is regiment of infantrymen of Epinal, and of the 7e Besançon armored brigade. Objective: to train them in rudimentary combat in pick-ups and motorcycles, in order to involve them in a large-scale operation, at the beginning of 2021.

    Precarious progress

    This cheering scene should have happened earlier. The rise of the Malian army has always been considered essential to the success of French operations, since Paris sent its troops to save the Malian state from jihadist attacks. First under the banner of “Serval” in 2013, then under that of “Barkhane”, starting in 2014. But, eight years later, progress is precarious. “We went around the dial, we must now move forward. A number of deadlines are looming ”, considers General Lecointre, that The world was able to follow during his seventh tour of the Sahel in three years.

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