France’s War on Terror: Fighting Radical Islam in the Sahel
France's War on Terror: Fighting Radical Islam in the Sahel
Written for JESPIONNE
French involvement in North Africa came to a head in June in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. After deploying more than 5,000 troops to the Sahel region, France is finally seeing results in northern Mali. The death of al-Qaeda’s top leader in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalek Droukdel, also known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, was announced France’s Defense Minister Florence Parly. Also killed were many close associates of, who together are considered top leaders in the Al-Qaeda of Islamic Maghreb.
Responsible for bombings, abductions, and other acts of terror on both civilians, local and foreign troops, the Sahel based Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a deadly 2016 attack that resulted in the deaths of 30 people. Among other attacks the group committed is the 2013 bombing of Algerian government and UN buildings that killed 26 people and injured 177. Because of his part in the 2013 attack, Droukdel was sentenced to death in Algeria, and had been on the run since.
"T HE CHALLENGE OF AFRICA IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT; IT IS MUCH DEEPER. IT IS CIVILIZATIONAL TODAY. FAILING STATES, COMPLEX DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS, THE DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITION."
- French President Emmanuel Macron.
French operations in Mali began in 2013 with Operation Serval and continue today with Operation Barkhane. Supporting the Mali government in anti-terror missions, France, along with the United Nations maintain a large presence in the country. More than 14,000 UN peacekeepers are currently present in the country, as are contingents from other nations like Estonia, the United Kingdom, and Denmark. The large buildup in forces is a direct result of a 2012 Tuareg rebellion, supplied primarily from the collapse of Libya. Libyan arms and people flooded into the Sahel region, increasing tensions, and prompting a revolt against the Malian government.
Operation Serval was France’s answer to the Tuareg revolt. Putting French citizens in danger, the revolt threatened to reach Bamako, Mali’s capital city. Radical Islamic elements began to attack French forces in the region and took over large portions of northern Mali. Deploying mechanized and light infantry, French forces used a combined air and ground assault to force the rebel groups to the negotiating table but continued to fight the Islamist groups. Fearing a destabilizing takeover and creation of an Islamic state in the Sahel, France dedicated itself to their defeat, and by mid-2014 Mali and French forces controlled all major Malian cities.
At the end of Operation Serval, French forces transitioned to fight radical Islamic terrorism under Operation Barkhane. Still ongoing today, their main adversaries are Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Nusrat al-Islam. Fighting with France, Estonia, the UK, and Denmark have pledged their support in the operation, and currently field heavy transport helicopters in supporting roles. The G5 Sahel, a group comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are increasing their cooperative efforts to stabilize the region and have each dedicated troops to fighting terrorism and regaining control over sovereign territory.
The three main terrorist groups in the Sahel recently ramped up efforts to force the French out of country, targeting bases, troop convoys, and aircraft for attack. The main objective of these operations is “to become the French pillar of counterterrorism in the Sahel region,” in direct support of the G5 Sahel. In doing this, French troops have become the primary target of the insurgency.
Despite their best efforts, French and allied forces have killed nearly 600 jihadists since the beginning of the mission. A large part in this breakthrough results from intelligence gathering and dissemination. The United States, for example, is credited with providing the intelligence necessary to target Droukdel, resulting in his death. The United States has been involved in other ways; recently, in 2017, four Green Berets were killed while on a patrol along the border of Mali and Niger. Hunting an Islamic State officer, their patrol was ambushed.
The Sahel's Future:
Increased action in the Sahel region has meant an increase in French presence. Because of this, French troops can increase their combat effectiveness, leading to mission success. In May, French forces captured Mohamed el Mrabat, an official of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS). The elimination of terrorist threats has proven France to be a model nation in the fight against terrorism, and they maintain widespread international support. Action will continue throughout the Sahel region in pursuit of radical Islamists however, and France will likely emerge victorious. Droukdel’s death may be a symbolic victory, but it will be the first of many as the G5 Sahel rally to continue the fight.
The Sahel will likely continue to experience violence if radical Islamic ideology continues to grip the region. French presence may only be exacerbating the situation, adding fuel to the already disparate groups fighting what they believe to be an anti-colonial war.
CALL TO ACTION
Coulibaly/ Geron, J./ O'Reilly, F./ Tessier, B./ Tesson, P.
France/ Mali/ Droukdel/ Terrorism/ Sahel/ North Africa/ Al-Qaeda/ Islamic State/ Barkhane/ Serval/ Lybia/ United States