In the aftermath of their departure from Mali in the summer of 2022, the French armies have embarked on a discreet partnership in Niger, focusing on tailored approaches that meet the demands of Niamey. Learning from the lessons of their forced exit, the French military is determined to act in support of local forces, rather than taking their place.
General Bruno Baratz, the commander of the French Forces in the Sahel (FFS), emphasises the philosophical differences between Niger and Mali. “Today, our aid begins by addressing the needs of our partners,” he states. This shift in approach is necessary following the pressure faced by French soldiers during Operation Barkhane in Mali, when a hostile junta turned to Russian mercenaries from Wagner, despite denying any involvement.
The neighbouring country of Burkina Faso, also led by putschist soldiers, demanded the withdrawal of French special forces from its territory in January. Consequently, the French presence in Africa has been met with criticism, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to order a strategy that adheres strictly to the specific demands of the countries involved, while keeping a low profile.
Niger, on the other hand, has accepted the presence of 1,500 French soldiers on its soil, as it seeks to strengthen its own armed forces. This mutually beneficial arrangement allows Niger to increase its military capabilities while receiving essential support in the form of training, equipment, intelligence, and air resources from the French. In return, France gains a valuable partner in its fight against the resurgence of the Islamic State group in the Sahara (EIS), particularly along the border with Mali.
According to Michael Shurkin, an American expert specialising in the French military, Niger serves as a testing ground for the French army’s new approach. Previously, France had waged its own war alongside the Malian armed forces, but now it aims to operate differently.
However, staying in the background requires a shift in mindset for French officers who were previously engaged in more autonomous operations against jihadist groups in the Sahel for a decade. Adapting to this new approach, known as “debarkhanization of minds,” is essential.
Niger, meanwhile, is content with the increased partnership, as it focuses on strengthening its own armed forces. With plans to expand its forces to 50,000 men by 2025 and 100,000 by 2030, Niger seeks to take charge of its own security. The country’s command now lies in the hands of the Nigerien military, allowing them to address the needs and terrain more effectively.
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