France in Africa
France, now in the process of drawing down its military presence in West Africa's Sahel nations, has criticized plans that could see Russian mercenaries brought to Mali, where jihadist groups tied to ISIS or al-Qaeda operate in large parts of the country. Reports suggest that Mali's transitional government is considering a deal with the Wagner Group, which has close links to Vladimir Putin and is also active in Central African Republic. The Coordinating Body of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Tuareg rebel groups that signed a peace deal with the Malian government in 2015, likewise expressed its "firm opposition" to any agreement to bring in the Wagner Group. (TNH)
The tri-border region where the Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali come together is the scene of fast-mounting massacres by presumed Islamist militants. At least 80 people were killed in an ambush in Burkina Faso on Aug. 18. The target was a convoy near the town of Arbinda, but scores of civilians were slain along with 17 soldiers and members of a pro-government militia. On Aug. 4, presumed militants killed 30 civilians, soldiers and militiamen in an attack near the town of Markoye. The assailants first attacked civilian villagers, and then fired on soldiers responding to the raid. State media reported that government troops killed 16 of the attackers. (The Hill, Al Jazeera, AP, France24, Reuters)
France is to reduce its forces battling jihadists in the Sahel—a seven-year deployment that has failed to stem the violence, and which has proved increasingly unpopular both in the region and domestically. President Emmanuel Macron said on June 10 there would be a "profound transformation" of its Operation Barkhane, with France relying more on special forces, air power, and cooperation with allies. The details of the plan will be finalized by the end of June, he added. France has suffered a recent setback in the Sahel with the death of its close ally, Chadian leader Idriss Déby, and an increasingly complicated relationship with Mali—the focus of Barkhane's 5,100-strong intervention. Earlier this month, Paris suspended joint military operations with Malian forces after a second coup. Macron has also refused to support moves by some Sahelian countries to open negotiations with jihadists, and has suggested that African partners have not pulled their weight in the counter-insurgency fight—a conflict widely seen as militarily unwinnable.
President Idriss Déby of Chad died following injuries sustained in fighting against rebels in the country's north, authorities announced April 20. The president's son, Gen. Mahamat Kaka, is said to be serving as interim president. Déby had just been declared provisional winner of another presidential term, with nearly 80% of the vote in the April 11 election. He had been in power for three decades. The rebel Front for Change & Concord in Chad (FACT) invaded the country from its bases across the border in Libya, in an attempt to disrupt the elections. Both sides are claiming victory after clashes in the northern region of Kanem, and FACT says that its forces are advancing on the capital, N'Djamena.
A French airstrike killed 19 civilians attending a wedding celebration in a remote central Malian village, according to an investigation by the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA. The report based its findings on hundreds of interviews, satellite images, and evidence gathered from a trip to Bounti, the village hit by the Jan. 3 strike. The French defense ministry rejected the report, maintaining the casualties were Islamist militants. French troops were hailed as heroes by many Malians when they drove out militant groups from major towns in the country's desert north in 2013. But criticism has grown as a more than 5,000-strong regional counter-insurgency force—called Operation Barkhane—has failed to prevent the militants from regrouping and expanding across West Africa's Sahel. Despite some recent battlefield gains, the operation is drawing increasing comparisons to the US war in Afghanistan.
A week after the US State Department added the Islamist insurgents in northern Mozambique to its list of "foreign terrorist organizations," the Pentagon is now preparing to send a team of military advisors into the conflict zone. The US Embassy in Maputo announced March 15 that the two-month Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program will see US Special Forces troops instructing Mozambican marines. This follows an announcement weeks ealier by Portugal, the former colonial power in Mozambique, that it is dispatching an elite military unit to help fight the insurgents, known locally as the Shabaab. Lisbon is also petitioning the European Union to send an international military mission to the region to back up the Mozambique Armed Defense Forces (FADM).
More than 260 organizations issued an open letter to banks and financial institutions involved in the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), which would carry oil from fields in western Uganda to a port on the northern coast of Tanzania. The human rights and environmental organizations say the line's construction poses "unacceptable" risks to communities in the immediate 1,445-kilometer (898-mile) path of the project and beyond. They are calling on banks not to fund the $3.5 billion project, and asking government leaders to shift funding away from infrastructure for fossil fuels to renewable energy.
UN investigators into political violence in Mali reported to the Security Council that they found evidence that government forces have committed "war crimes," while jihadists and other armed groups perpetrated "crimes against humanity." The allegations are made in a 338-page report compiled by the International Commission of Inquiry, a three-member panel examining events in Mali over the six years after it spiralled into conflict in 2012. The Commission was created in January 2018 as part of the Agreement for Peace & Reconciliation between rebels and the government, which was signed in 2015 after years of fighting. The report, which has not yet been made public, recommends establishing a special court to try accused perpetrators. (France24, Dec. 23)