French President Emmanuel Macron has called on his ministers and army chiefs to work on the country’s military postures in Africa, amid the complete withdrawal of thousands of its troops from Mali.
Macron made the statement while addressing French troops ahead of the July 14 Bastille Day parade in the capital, Paris, on Thursday, saying he wanted a “rethink of all our (military) postures on the African continent.”
His remarks come as French officials are heading to Niger to purportedly redefine the country’s strategy to allegedly fight armed groups in the Sahel region.
France’s new foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, and Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu are due to arrive in Niger on Friday to seal a regional redeployment.
“Beyond Mali, the democratic decline in West Africa is extremely worrying with successive putsches in Mali twice, in Guinea in September 2021, in Burkina Faso in January of this year,” Colonna told a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday. “France will nevertheless continue despite these events, this withdrawal from Mali, to help West African armies fight against terrorist groups,” he said.
Niger will now become the hub for French troops, with some 1,000 soldiers based in the capital, Niamey, with fighter jets, drones, and helicopters.
Some 300-400 soldiers would be dispatched for special operations with Nigerien troops in the border regions with Burkina and Mali, French officials told reporters in a briefing.
Another 700-1,000 would be based in Chad, with an undisclosed number of special forces operating elsewhere in the region.
The officials said that at this stage, there had been no formal request for further military assistance, amid concerns about whether French and European troops will also support countries in the coastal Gulf of Guinea nations, such as Benin, Togo, and the Ivory Coast, where there is an increase in militant attacks.
Some European countries had shown an interest in continuing regional operations post Mali, the officials said.
Lecornu will travel to the Ivory Coast, which also hosts French troops, on Saturday, while Macron is likely to travel to Benin at the end of July, Colonna said.
Back in February, France declared that it would withdraw thousands of its troops from Mali due to a breakdown in relations with the country, a decade after launching a war without the initial approval of the United Nations or the French parliament.
The decision applies to the 2,400 French troops in Mali, where France first deployed forces to in 2013, and a European force of several hundred soldiers that was created in 2020.
France has been a former colonizer in Africa, which, after many years of outright colonization, still controls countries spread over more than 12 territories and treats their people as second-class citizens. It has had more than 50 military interventions in Africa since 1960, when many of its former colonies gained nominal independence.
France currently has 5,100 troops in the arid and volatile Sahel region. Under a new plan, they will be reduced to 2,500-3,000.
Although France remains the only Western country with a significant military presence in the Sahel, its relationship with its former African colonies has grown increasingly tense in recent months, with an evident increase in anti-French sentiment.