Africa

Op Barkhane: UK-Supported French Counter-Terrorism Mission In West Africa To End

Royal Air Force Chinooks have been deployed in support of Operation Barkhane since 2018.

A French-led counter-terrorism mission in west Africa supported by UK personnel is to come to an end. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that Operation Barkhane, which started in 2013, would draw to a close and be replaced with a wider international effort in the region.

It has been reported that despite some success in recent months, France has grown frustrated with no apparent end in sight to its operations amid political turmoil, especially in Mali.

British military personnel are deployed to Mali in a non-combat logistical role in support of Op Barkhane.

The mission focuses on tackling the threat from militants linked to groups such as al-Qaeda or so-called Islamic State (IS) across the Sahel in Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

"The time has come to begin a deep transformation of our military presence in the Sahel," Mr Macron said.

It comes days after Malian army Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government, solidifying his grip on power in the west African nation after carrying out his second coup d'etat in nine months.

Days earlier on 3 June, France suspended joint military operations with Malian forces until the junta complies with international demands to restore civilian rule.

Mr Macron described the Mali move earlier this month as a "coup within a coup".

CH47 on Op NEWCOMBE Mali RAF Chinooks recorded 3000 operational flight hours 30032021 CREDIT MOD.jpg
An RAF Chinook flying in Mali in support of Op Barkhane (Picture: MOD).

Royal Air Force Chinooks have been deployed to the country since 2018, flying for more than 3,000 hours in support of the French-led mission, moving more than 1,500 tonnes of freight and 18,000 troops.

A Ministry of Defence (MOD) spokesperson said despite the announcement by Mr Macron, there are "no immediate implications for deployed UK personnel".

"The UK's support for French counter-terrorism operations in Mali underlines Britain's continued commitment to international peace and security," the spokesperson said.

"While there are no immediate implications for deployed UK personnel, we are monitoring the situation and will continue to work to address shared security challenges in the Sahel with our partners and allies."

Three-hundred British soldiers are also deployed on the separate UN peacekeeping mission in Mali.

Troops, mostly from the Light Dragoons and 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, are supporting MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), with the UK's contribution named Operation Newcombe.

Mr Macron said more countries, including the US, will be asked to contribute to the Takuba Task Force –  a European military task force led by France – fighting militants in the Sahel alongside the Malian and Nigerian armies.

Rear crewman of Chinook transiting Hombori mountains in Mali  recorded 3000 operational flight hours 23032021 CREDIT MOD.jpg
RAF Chinook flies through the Hombori mountains in Mali (Picture: MOD).

Mr Macron said hundreds of French special forces would work alongside other European nations in the Takuba Task Force and that other French forces would work as part of training operations and existing international missions in the area.

Fifty-five French soldiers have died in the Sahel since 2013.

"Many of our soldiers have fallen, I have a thought for their families. We owe them consistency, clarity," the French president said.

"Our desired objective is to reduce our bases, to reduce the external operations."

More than 5,000 French troops are currently deployed across the Sahel.

The details of the French changes will be finalised by the end of this month following discussions with partners involved in the region.