Mali and its Sahel neighbours will receive assistance from France in their fight against terrorism.
“To ensure security on Malian territory and in the Sahel”, the new military co-operation accord aims to improve “intelligence, training and information-sharing”, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday (July 16th) in Bamako after signing the treaty with new Malian Defence Minister Bah N’Daw.
Three days earlier, France formally ended its “Serval” operation in northern Mali, replacing it with a wider counter-terrorism initiative in Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.
“There is no longer any safe haven for terrorist groups in Mali,” French President François Hollande said on July 13th, after announcing the end of the French-led intervention that began in January 2013.
The new 3,000-troop “Barkhane” operation will be based in N’djamena, Chad. Around 1,200 French soldiers will stay in northern Mali.
After the treaty was signed, the French defence minister travelled to Gao. During a speech to the troops, he spoke of “our nation’s total determination to counteract the jihadists in the Sahel in order to strengthen France’s security and the stability of the states in the region”.
Mali’s defence and security partnership with France has the backing of civil-society and community organisations in both the north and the south of the country.
Among them are the Touareg communities, the Arabs and Bellahs in the north, and the Kel Tamasheq in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. The treaty is also supported by the Civil Society Forum and the Movement of Malian Civil-Society Organisations.
“This agreement is in line with the co-operation agreements that were signed with six other African states.” terrorism analyst Sidati Ould Cheikh told Magharebia, “It is in keeping with the spirit of partnership of the Élysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, which advocates support for African forces and control by Africans over their own security,” he said.
“The agreement will enable the French to stay in Mali and be based in Gao in a configuration similar to the existing one, but within a different operational framework,” Ould Cheikh said.
“This is because terrorism is still present and the jihadist threats are still very real, as demonstrated by the suicide attack an area reconnaissance and monitoring group fell victim on July 14th,” he added.
The Mourabitounes terror group – created last August by Mokhtar Belmokhtar- claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing that left one French soldier dead and six injured, Al Akhbar reported.
According to security expert Ould Sheikh, the “Barkhane” initiative looks to stem terrorism across the Sahel region. It will combine the staff and missions of Operations Serval and Épervier, which had been under way in Chad since 1986.
“It will also oversee the intelligence operations carried out by drones from Niamey Airport in Niger and the ones carried out by Special Forces from Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso),” Ould Cheikh said.