The so-called French pillar of counterterrorism in West Africa drew fire this week from Islamic extremists who struck the French Embassy in Burkina Faso and that country’s army headquarters. Seven soldiers were reported killed, as were eight attackers. Over 80 persons were injured.
The incident took place in Burkina’s famed capital city of Ouagadougou just as regional senior officers who coordinate with France as part of “Operation Barkhane” against Islamic insurgents were due to meet at the headquarters.
But the group changed their venue at the last minute and survived, said Security Minister Clement Sawadogo.
The attack was denounced by French President Emmanuel Macron and U.N. chief Antonio Guterres.
The French operation which deploys 4,000 troops began in 2014 to prevent “a highway of all forms of traffic,” explained former French President Francois Hollande, “where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild, which would lead to serious consequences for (French) security.”
Operation Barkhane will allow for a “rapid and efficient intervention in the event of a crisis” and have a mandate to operate across borders, the former leader said. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged from the European Union, the Saudis and the Americans, to assist operations, reports Middle East Eye.
(A Barkhane is a crescent-shaped sand dune such as those found in the Sahara desert).
But what began as a French military reaction to an Islamic insurgency in Mali has grown into a more weaponized permanent and cross-border counter-terrorism effort, writes Amandla Thomas-Johnson for the Middle East Eye.
Fighting will be done by small teams, intelligence, fighter jets and drones, wrote the online new site Merguez.info, adding: “No more large-scale operations with armored columns of French soldiers”.
British forces recently pledged 3 Chinook helicopters, 100 soldiers and the army’s Watchkeeper surveillance drones in what would be their first deployment overseas.
The foreign military build-up has troubled some regional experts who have called for a holistic response that promotes good governance, addresses food security and the needs of human development.
“It is clear from the increase in military activity over the past several years that Barkhane itself and strictly military solutions more broadly are not sufficient to decrease militancy in the Sahel”, said Andrew Lebovich with the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Further, said Lebovich, foreign interventions carry a risk of blowback from a region where American forces are also known to operate, battling insurgencies through ground operations and drone strikes launched from a sprawling military base in Niger.