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(en) France, Union Communiste Libertaire AL #306 -International, Why the French army must leave the Sahel (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]

Date Wed, 17 Jun 2020 09:04:00 +0300

Adding endlessly the "scalps" of jihadists, does that help West Africa to move towards a political and social solution to the conflicts that tear it apart? No. On the other hand, Operation Barkhane secures Nigerien uranium and consolidates the tutelage of France over vassalized and discredited governments. ---- Since 2013, France has been waging an "endless war" in the Sahel, mainly in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Officially, it is a "war against terrorism", a magic formula that deceptively simplifies the complexity of conflicts in the region: insubordination of stigmatized minorities (Tuareg or Fulani), competition for land between farmers and breeders, economic crisis and drug trafficking[1]...
At the time, the Malian army collapsed in the face of the rebel offensive. Its structural corruption was common knowledge - a place for a non-commissioned officer or a soldier bought 250,000 to 500,000 CFA francs[2]- and many soldiers were at the front almost without equipment, because their officers had sold it contraband... As for the neighboring countries, which the UN had mandated to rescue Mali, they were slow to move, and rather pressed Bamako to call Paris for help...

In southern Mali, we began to hope for French intervention, which will be widely applauded. Even anti-imperialist intellectuals like Samir Amin saw the slightest harm in it and supported it[3].

In reality, calling for a French intervention was tantamount to being chained "to the neo-colonial chariot" for "along time yet", wrote Alternative libertaire then[4]. But at the time, it was difficult to make this criticism heard, and the Malian diaspora in France boycotted one of the only protest rallies against Serval, convened in front of Areva's headquarters by AL, LO and the NPA.

Seven years later, the climate is quite different. African opinions are increasingly hostile to French intervention, while other Westerners are doing everything to stay away.

The Barkhane operation in the first half of 2020. Click to enlarge
Source: French Ministry of Defense
To raise French awareness of the issue, there are at least five good reasons to demand the withdrawal of tricolor troops from the Sahel.

1. Because it's an endless war
Rustic armed groups that strike and disappear, no front line, no clear military objective, still less political objective, civilian populations caught in the crossfire and suspected on both sides of collaborating with "l ' enemy"... So many characteristics of a counterinsurgency war that has become a"quagmire". Like the United States in Vietnam, like the USSR and then the United States in Afghanistan, the French state knows that it is engaged in an unmanageable war. Only, like his predecessors, he does not know how to get out of it.

Leaving the Sahel in these conditions is to admit seven years of war "for nothing". Staying there is perpetuating a macabre routine, where the staff gives the impression of fulfilling its mission by making numbers - or "scalp" as he says with derision: here, 20 combatants killed in a drone strike, there, 30 others sprayed by a Mirage 2000. They will be quickly replaced[5].

Jihadist leaders when the GSIM was founded in March 2017. In the center, the tutelary figure: Iyad ag Ghali, trained by the Libyan regime, then Tuareg rebel leader, then government official in Bamako, then jihadist rebel. Left: Fulani preacher Ahmadou Koufa.
2. Because it delays a political solution
The pitiful withdrawal of French troops will come sooner or later, but in the meantime, their presence prevents other options than the "war on terror" from being explored. It is the wish of a part of the Malian society, which thinks that the jihad is only the screen of a rebellion whose springs are in reality social and political, and which it is necessary to negotiate while it is still time, that is to say before international jihadists, survivors of Syria for example, come to make their hole in the Sahel and make any dialogue impossible[6].

So when, in April 2017 in Mali, a National Understanding Conference recommended the opening of negotiations with the two main Islamist leaders, Ahmadou Koufa and Iyad Ag Ghali, Paris immediately prohibited the Malian government from going in this direction[7].

Rebelote in early 2020, when the Barkhane force declared that it would ignore any negotiations, and continue to strike at the terrorists[8]. The French guardianship therefore prevents the search for a political solution by the Malians themselves.

Paris turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against the civilian population by its allies in the name of anti-terrorism.
Photo: army staff.
3. Because it probably makes the situation worse
Barkhane's murderous routine fuels the desire for revenge. And it will progress with the "collateral" victims who can only increase since in December 2019, Barkhane cocked its missile drones. We saw it in another "endless war", that waged by Obama against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen between 2008 and 2016: out of 3,800 dead in 542 "targeted attacks" by drones, 8% were civilians killed by accident[9].

The motivations of penniless young people in the Sahel to join armed Islamism are diverse: the lure of gain (rapine and trafficking), of power, the defense of a minority (Tuareg or Peuhl) mistreated by a Racist state and its soldiers ... The fundamentalist reference to Islam provides a virtuous covering for this commitment. But with the French presence, we can add another, prestigious motive: the anti-colonial combat against the "crusaders".

Jihadist attack zones and military bases (2015-2018). Click to enlarge
Source: IHS Markit
In March 2017, facing the adversary, four jihadist groups hitherto competing - Ansar Dine, AQMI-Sahel, Al-Mourabitoune and Katiba Macina - thus unified within the Support Group for Islam and Muslims ( GSIM, affiliated with Al-Qaeda). One of the fears of some observers is that the GSIM "goes upmarket" and becomes capable of projecting beyond its traditional area of action, for example by planning reprisal attacks in France[10]. For the French population, who cares little about Operation Barkhane, the revival would be violent.

Read also: "Sahel: the long time of intertwined conflicts" , Alternative libertarian, June 2020.
4. Because it strengthens a criminal system
For many discredited and corrupt regimes, the "war on terror" is an alibi for obtaining the Western blessing. However, the definition of "terrorism" can, as often, be vague and mixed with racism. The Tuareg and Fulani minorities, accused of sympathy for the jihadists, are particularly victims. In Mali and Burkina Faso, since 2016, the civilian populations have in fact not only been victims of the jihadists, but also of the regular army and militias which are subservient to it. Their crimes, summary executions and collective massacres amount to hundreds of deaths[11]. Because it comes from allied states, the French government turns a blind eye to this kind of ... terrorism.

In general, the grid of the continent by the French army - more than 8,000 soldiers in 9 countries, in March 2020 - consolidates impunity. Think of the sad dean of African autocrats, the Cameroonian Paul Biya (in power since ... 1982!), Or the Chadian Idriss Deby (in power since 1990). In February 2019, Paris saved him for the umpteenth time, when Barkhane deviated from his mission to bomb, in Chad, a column of rebels who were not yet jihadists![12]

5. Because it is an imperialist intervention
Since independence, France has wanted to keep its influence in Africa. Basically, the French army is calibrated less for "defense" than for being "projected" into distant theaters, according to the interests of the state and national capitalism. In March 2020, according to staff figures, 41% of the personnel deployed were abroad[13]. It is an army of "external operations", that is to say an imperialist army.

Like Russia currently in Syria or the United States in Vietnam in the past, France claims to be a "guest power" in the Sahel by friendly governments which have called on it for help. This rhetoric hardly masks its imperialist motivation. On the one hand, it must secure its supply of Nigerian uranium. On the other hand, he must confirm that she is a reliable tutor, with whom to be reckoned. It is a decisive key to preserving, in the face of American and Chinese competition, concessions and public markets in Africa.

However, the French state, which claims to restore order in the Sahel, has an important responsibility in the current situation. In 2011, he could not ignore - since it was the great fear of Chad, Niger, Mali or Algeria - that the destruction of the regime of Colonel Gaddafi, in Libya, was likely to lead to a dissemination of armaments and "lost soldiers" in the Sahel, where Gaddafi had pulled the strings of rebellion for more than twenty years.

In March 2020, 41% of the personnel deployed by the French army were abroad.
Photo: army staff.
In the Sahel, the French state presents itself as a savior. The reality is that it does not save people and does not reduce violence. It only saves uranium mines and its status as a suzerain state vis-à-vis vassalized governments. Its armed presence locks West Africa into dependence, sometimes keeps it under the rule of demonetized dictators, removes the possibility of peace negotiations and, overall, prolongs and aggravates an endless war.

Guillaume Davranche (UCL Montreuil)


[1]Eros Sana, "Mali: the real causes of war" , Bastamag, February 4, 2013.

[2]Aminata Traoré, Boubacar Boris Diop, La Gloire des imposteurs, Philippe Rey, 2014.

[3]Aminata Traoré, Boubacar Boris Diop, La Gloire des imposteurs, Philippe Rey, 2014.

[4]Libertarian alternative, "Mali: Areva is worth a war" , January 16, 2013.

[5]"" Barkhane "says he eliminates a hundred combatants per month in the Sahel" , Le Monde, March 11, 2020.

[6]What is happening, with the current rise of a GSIM competitor, the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS)

[7]Moussa Bolly, "Paris prohibits Bamako from negotiating with Iyad" , Maliactu.net, April 14, 2017.

[8]Le Monde , March 11, 2020.

[9]"Obama's Final Drone Strike Data" , on Cfr.org.

[10]Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, A lost war. France in the Sahel, JC Lattès, 2020.

[11]Human Rights Watch, "Atrocities committed in Burkina Faso in the name of security risk swelling the ranks of terrorists" , June 12, 2019 ; HRW report on "atrocities committed against civilians in central Mali" , February 2020; "La Minusma accuses the Malian army of having perpetrated 101 extrajudicial executions" , Malijet.com, May 4, 2020, etc.

[12]Thomas Noirot, "Chad: The French army out of control" , Survie, February 25, 2019.

[13]Infographic, Ministry of Defense , March 2020.

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