France’s action in the Sahel

France's action in the Sahel

The Sahel is a vast area with a population of almost 100 million people across five countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (which form the G5 Sahel). This region is facing many difficulties and challenges, including the growing threat of terrorism and organized crime, climate change and demographic growth, all of which are sources of fragility. As shared challenges, they must be addressed from the political, military and development perspectives.

France and its European and international partners are fully committed to supporting the efforts of the Sahel States.

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Partnerships at the request of African countries

Along with other international partners, France is engaged in the Sahel, to stop the area becoming a long-term hotbed of instability for terrorist groups and of various forms of trafficking in drugs, weapons or people, or migrant smuggling, for example, which could also threaten its own security.

Military support for Sahel countries

Since the outset of the security crisis in the Sahel, France has been strongly committed to curbing the terrorist threat.

In 2012, terrorist and radical movements threatened Mali’s national integrity and security, and could have taken long-term control over swathes of its territory.

At the request of Mali’s Government, France launched Operation Serval in January 2013 to push back the terrorist groups in North Mali, supporting troops from Mali and other African States. UN Security Council Resolution 2085 of 20 December 2012 highlighted the need for UN Member States such as France to support Mali in its efforts to restore peace and security.

Despite this military engagement, terrorist groups remain active throughout the zone. In 2014, Operation Barkhane succeeded Serval. The aim of Barkhane is for the French forces to provide broader support to the G5 Sahel Member States.

In 2020, French special forces will be deployed in Mali, along with those of European partners, under the command of Operation Barkhane, in a joint unit dubbed Task Force Takuba.

French military support in the Sahel

  • 5,100 French military personnel deployed,
  • 75 cooperation officers,
  • more than 7,000* G5 Sahel soldiers have received training,
  • almost 750 training* or combat support activities carried out
    *2019 figures

The Barkhane force operates in partnership with the armed forces of Sahel countries. The aim is for these States to be able to handle their own security independently.

The G5 Sahel joint force

Created in 2014 at the initiative of the African Union, which at the time was chaired by Mauritania, the G5 Sahel is an intergovernmental cooperation framework. Based in Nouakchott in Mauritania, the G5 Sahel has two main purposes:

  • fighting insecurity
  • conducting development actions to open up the region.

In 2017, the G5 Sahel Heads of State officially launched the G5 Sahel Joint Force in Bamako. It was officially created by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2359 of 21 June 2017, which was sponsored by France and endorsed by the African Union Peace and Security Committee (AUPSC).

The Joint Force is tasked with pooling efforts in the fight against terrorism, cross-border organized crime and human trafficking. It carried out its first operation in November 2017 with the armies of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. At full operational capability, the Joint Force will have 5,000 soldiers (seven regiments spread across three zones: West, Centre and East). It is active in a 50km strip on either side of the countries’ shared borders. The Force has already carried out 17 successful joint operations.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)

MINUSMA’s mandate is to:

  • support the implementation of the Algiers Peace Agreement
  • protect civilians
  • support the work of the Malian authorities to stabilize their country.

With over 15,000 civilian and military personnel, MINUSMA is essential to the international presence in Mali, especially in the north and centre of the country.

UN Resolution 2391 of 8 December 2017 governs the coordination of this mission with the Joint Force as MINUSMA provides it with operational and logistical support.

At the UN Security Council, France provided political support for the creation and deployment of the MINUSMA.

European missions: EUTM Mali, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger

EUTM Mali provides EU training in Mali. It has been advising and training the Malian armed forces since 2013, to increase their capabilities and thus better tackle the many challenges facing them to re-establish the country’s territorial integrity and to improve border control in cooperation with their G5 Sahel partners, thus reducing the terrorist threat.

EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger are civilian missions assisting the countries’ internal security forces through training, strategic advice and equipment.

Within the EU, France supported the creation of the civilian missions EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger, as well as the EUTM Mali training mission.

Coordinated diplomacy, defence and development activities

The terrorist threat is intrinsically linked to the economic, educational, health and institutional challenges facing the region. This is why it is important to facilitate momentum towards peace and sustainable reconstruction on solid foundations, in addition to providing immediate support to local armed forces. As such, the “3D” approach is developed jointly by defence, diplomacy and development stakeholders.

Mobilizing for security in the Sahel

The French diplomatic network is present in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, as well as in international organizations. Through this network, it has been advocating among its partners (States, European Union, United Nations) for material and human support in the region.

In 2017, the conference to finance the G5 Sahel Joint Force mobilized the main international stakeholders in the Sahel. The Brussels Conference in February 2018 raised €414 million of international funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force.

Supporting dialogue and stabilization

Diplomatic efforts seek to foster peace on the ground, supporting dialogue between all parties with regard to the implementation of the Algiers Peace Agreement (Malian Government and signatory groups). The aim is to find a long-term political and development solution for Mali.

Through its Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS), the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs finances a dozen stabilization projects in areas as broad as:

  • mine clearance
  • support for institutions and local governance by training senior officials
  • support for the media
  • the promotion of citizenship

Commitment to development

Crises originating from structural problems cannot be curbed by a security response alone. This response must be combined with a development approach.

This is why, through increased funding from France, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD, French Development Agency) and other French agencies are supporting short-, medium- and long-term projects to improve access to basic services (water, energy, education and health) and support populations’ autonomy through training and employment.

In the Sahel Alliance framework, France is working alongside other major development donors. This partnership was launched by France, Germany and the EU, with support from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme, currently forming a platform with 13 members. The Sahel Alliance brings together the major donors active in the region around the two-fold aim of improving aid coordination and effectiveness in an approach that combines addressing the emergency, stabilization and development.

The Alliance has more than 800 projects being implemented or processed, adding up to a total of €11.6 billion to implement, with an estimated disbursement rate of 29% in 2019.

Under a strategic partnership with the G5 Sahel, the members of the Sahel Alliance are implementing several Priority Investment Programmes (PIP), including the financing of a G5 Sahel Partners and Donors Coordination Conference which was held in Nouakchott on 6 December 2018, and an Emergency Development Programme in vulnerable cross-border areas. Initial needs were estimated at €1.7 billion, but pledges totalled €2 billion. Of the pledged amount, the members of the Sahel Alliance represented €1.8 billion, including €266 million to fund the Emergency Development Programme with a focus on three priority sectors: access to water, strengthening resilience and supporting social cohesion.

At the end of the General Assembly held alongside the Summit of G5 Sahel Heads of State in Nouakchott on 25 February 2020, the Alliance members drew up a series of conclusions. They wanted to increase the flexibility of their methods of intervention to take swifter action for the people of the Sahel. They also recommended stepping up efforts to make the Sahel Alliance more efficient, including by improving procedures and project synergy; using an integrated territorial strategy to promote a differentiated approach in vulnerable areas. Strengthening the management of the Sahel Alliance on the ground so that it will have a faster impact is also among its recommendations, as well as opening dialogue on public policy reform in a spirit of mutual accountability.

Further information about the G5 Sahel and the Sahel Alliance

Increased European engagement and coordination in the fight against terrorism

Several European States, including Estonia, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, are taking part in European missions in the Sahel and contributing to the fight against terrorism within Operation Barkhane.

The Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel

The Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel (P3S), led by France and Germany, was presented at the Biarritz G7 Summit. The P3S aims to support efforts to redeploy government services and administrations, particularly internal security forces, and to strengthen the criminal justice system in Sahel countries. It also aims to enhance coordination between the major partners in the region. The P3S will initially focus on the G5 Sahel countries and existing cross-border initiatives, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the Accra Initiative.

The Dinard Partnership

The Dinard Partnership announced by France in April 2019 aims to combat trafficking in the Sahel in synergy with the P3S.

« “Combating terrorism within the G5 Sahel zone is no longer enough. And to stop the threat spreading, the effort now needs to be extended to the neighbouring countries of the Sahel and regional coordination needs to be strengthened. […] The Sahel countries, their neighbours and their international partners, need to work together in the spirit of shared responsibility to address the threat and meet people’s needs. And the first of those needs is the return of security and justice.” (Jean-Yves Le Drian, 25 September 2019, 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly).

Further information about the Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel (PDF 128 Ko)

International Coalition for the Sahel: facilitating coordination

At the Pau Summit on 13 January 2020, the International Coalition for the Sahel was launched by the Heads of State of France, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, in the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General, the President of the European Council, the European Union High Representative, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Secretary General of La Francophonie.

The gravity of the crisis in the Sahel, the sense of urgency, and the volume of the needs require stronger, more inclusive action. The International Coalition for the Sahel aims to provide a collective response to the challenges of the Sahel region by pooling the work undertaken by the G5 Sahel States and their international partners.

The goal is to take coherent action across the Sahel by including all relevant levers and stakeholders, whether dealing with the issues of security, politics or development.

Read the Pau Summit joint Statement
Further information on the International Coalition for the Sahel

Last updated on: 13 May 2020
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