“World” editorial. The elimination of the head of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by French special forces on June 3 in Mali, suddenly reminded the French, monopolized by the fight against the coronavirus, that a war was continuing in the Sahel , in which more than 5,000 of their compatriots are involved.
Presented Friday as a “Major success” by the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, the operation ended not only in the elimination of the emir of AQIM, the Algerian Abdelmalek Droukdel, but also in the “Neutralization of several of his close collaborators”. The minister took the opportunity to announce, at the same time, the capture in mid-May of an official of the other major jihadist organization in the Sahel, the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS).
It is too early to say whether these military successes mark a turning point in the fight against jihadist terrorism which is destabilizing the countries of the Sahel, but they give the French forces some reason to hope. First, the fact that the operation of June 3 could be carried out “From French and American intelligence crossovers”, Paris shows shows that the United States has not withdrawn from the region to redirect its surveillance capabilities, as it had threatened to do six months ago, pushing Mme Parly to go and plead his case directly in Washington. The assistance of the American intelligence means is indeed essential to the French troops, whose manpower does not allow to cover the immensity of the Sahelian desert.
States still very fragile
On the other hand, the disappearance of Abdelmalek Droukdel, one of the last “historic” Algerians at the head of AQIM, could signal the end of the Algerian-Mauritanian tutelage over Sahelian jihadism and modify the balances within the Islamist movement in the region, which would ultimately change the prospects for negotiation.
No one, however, claims victory. While the French military has already eliminated many terrorist operatives and “neutralized” – killed or captured – more than 500 jihadists in recent months, it has not yet succeeded in halting recruitment. Mali’s two main jihadist figures, former Tuareg chief Iyad Ag Ghali and Peul Amadou Koufa, are very active.
The main objectives set during the G5 Sahel summit (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania, Chad) which was held in Pau in January at the initiative of France remain largely to be accomplished. Priority had been given to the fight against ISIS, the local branch of which is particularly virulent in the region of the three borders, between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, but AQIM has shown that it remains the best established organization.
Another objective of Paris, the strengthening of local African troops alongside the French forces still leaves much to be desired. The expected Chadian battalion in Mali is blocked in the region of Lake Chad by the fight against Boko Haram. Military personnel in the region are regularly accused of atrocities, and states remain very fragile, unable to provide essential services to their populations, which leaves room for the recruitment of jihadists. The Takuba force, a group of European special forces, is being formed. The only certainty: the possibility, one day, of a departure of the French forces, engaged in Mali since 2014, cannot depend on the military approach alone.