How do you end terror in the Sahel region? Five Heads of State from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and France were considering this question during an anti-terrorist summit in Chad. Meanwhile, support for the French military operation in the area is crumbling among the French population.
Whats going on?
Islamic State Terror Group is increasingly active in the Sahel, the African region south of the Sahara Desert. Because of their presence, thousands of people have been fleeing and civilian deaths. In order to stop the rebels, France has also been military in the region since 2013.
“ Because it is a fight against terrorism, it has a great international character,” says Mali expert Mirjam de Bruijn in the CCEit Radio 1 News. “When this started in 2012, the French took the lead to reduce the emerging Islamic groups. After that, they remained active in the region with various operations involving European countries.”
The French fight and train the soldiers of the various Sahel countries. “The colonial past makes the French feel obliged to help,” says France-correspondent Frank Renout. “But of course there are other reasons too. The growing threat of jihadist terror has led the French to fear attacks in Europe.”
Some terrorist groups in the area are affiliated with al-Qaeda, including the Touareg rebels in northern Mali. Others are connected to Islamic State. According to De Bruijn, the rebel groups consist mainly of local people. “Poverty and the economy play a role, but social and political exclusion also leads to the choice of people joining such groups.”
The fight against the rebels is hampered by political turmoil. In Chad, the population rebelled against President Déby. With his army, it provides a large part of the military struggle in the Sahel and supports the French military. With the protests against him and elections approaching, the question remains whether Chad can support the fight against the terrorist groups.
the French side, too, it does not run smoothly. Last month, France bombed a village in Mali. According to the French Ministry of Defence, the bombs were intended for jihadists from a branch of al-Qaeda. But the French bombs, according to witnesses, started a massacre at a wedding, allegedly killing nineteen civilians.
According to the French Government, there were no civilians killed, but 30 jihadists. Yet the attack in France leads to fierce discussion. “Several parliamentarians want to see the video footage so that they can see for themselves what happened. Defense refuses to release them because they do not want to disclose their way of working,” says Renout.
Since the arrival of the French in the area, a total of 51 soldiers have died. Around the turn of the year, five people were killed. The desire to reduce interference is increasing in France. “President Macron talks very carefully about withdrawal, even though he does not mention the word itself. Hes doing all that right before the election. According to critics, he does this out of his own interest,” says Renout.
“ The operation seems to be difficult. It is difficult to reduce the jihadist rebel groups. It even looks like theyre just advancing. President Macron is therefore in a difficult position,” adds De Bruijn.
According to De Bruijn, the deployment of military personnel does not make much sense at all. “The real reason why this is happening is because of the economy and bad policy. Unemployment among young people is very high.”
“ This is the kind of problem you have to solve, but how do you do it when the state is no longer present in large parts of the Sahel?” , she continues. “And how do you do that if you have seen that the past fifty years have led to the current situation? You have to do something about the root cause, and that is investing in the economy. Make sure good leaders are chosen.”