PARIS — The French-led “Barkhane” anti-terrorist operation in central Africa will be at the heart of discussions defense minister Florence Parly will hold with her counterpart Mark Esper during a visit to the United States next week, according to defense sources here.
France considers U.S. participation in Barkhane to be crucial for intelligence and logistics. But Washington is re-considering its military presence in Africa, and France fears that without U.S. support the efforts to curtail terrorist groups in the area may fail.
“If the Americans were to decide to leave Africa it would be really bad news for us. I hope to be able to convince President Trump that the fight against terrorism also plays out in this region,” Macron said after a meeting earlier this month with heads of state of the G5 Sahel countries — Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania.
The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said last week after meeting his French counterpart in Paris, Gen. François Lecointre, that a decision to move a number of U.S. troops out of Africa would be taken within the next six weeks or so.
Members of Congress have warned that such a move would be a “shortsighted action.”
Macron repeated his plea for international cooperation in the area in his New Year address to the French armed forces. He said that “although France was alone in taking the initiative to save Mali in 2013, today it is Europe that is fighting to stabilize a region which we cannot abandon to chaos and allow to become the breeding ground for terrorism at the southern borders of our continent.”
He added that “in a year's time, the Barkhane force will have become an international military coalition, which it is already in part thanks to the contributions of our European and U.S. friends.”
When Macron and Parly met the Sahel leaders in the south-western French city of Pau, these countries confirmed their request to cooperate. It was decided at the meeting that a new coalition for the Sahel would focus on the tri-border zone between Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger. Europe will play its role via the EUTM (EU Training Missions), EUCAP Sahel Niger (EU Capacity Building Mission in Niger) and MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) operations to equip, train and accompany the local government forces.
Parly visited the region on Jan. 19, accompanied by her Swedish, Estonian and Portuguese counterparts. These three countries have troops among the 4,500-strong Barkhane operation and will form the backbone of the Takuba Task Force of European special forces, which will deploy to the are to assist the Malian armed forces. It is expected to be fully operational by fall 2020. A certain number of European countries, notably Italy and Belgium, have already announced their participation in Takuba.