Mali: the bitterness of the French soldiers after the vast release of prisoners

The great mute emerges from the silence. Because the French army struggles to digest the recent release of 200 prisoners against 4 hostages, negotiated by the Malian authorities with a jihadist group fought for years by France, sometimes at the cost of blood. “When you spend your nights building dikes and someone kicks them, it’s not fun,” blows a senior official on condition of anonymity. A brief summary of the frustration experienced by some within the armies, while 5,100 of theirs are deployed in the Sahelo-Saharan strip to block the jihadists.

Ultimate humiliation, the Malian Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, head of the jihadist alliance affiliated with Al-Qaeda “Support Group for Islam and Muslims” (GSIM), posted a photo on social networks in company released prisoners, on the occasion of a lavish banquet in their honor.

This negotiation was led by Mali.

The jihadist affiliation of these 200 ex-detainees, released against 4 hostages, including the French humanitarian Sophie Pétronin, is not proven. Many of them are mere suspects, sometimes arrested during large-scale raids. But some were “heads of katiba” arrested by the soldiers of the anti-Jihadist force Barkhane and handed over to the Malian authorities, plague a French soldier. According to a daily survey Release, at least 29 of the released prisoners had been captured by French soldiers.

France, whose official line is “not to negotiate with the terrorists”, has distanced itself from the negotiations. “This negotiation was led by Mali and the decision to release jihadists, in particular, belongs to the Malian authorities alone”, insisted Tuesday the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly. Anxious to preserve the morale of the troops and not to see the legitimacy of Barkhane undermined, to which Paris is endeavoring to associate more and more European reinforcements, the Minister and the staff took care to insist on their determination to continue the operation.

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Weakened trust

“It must be very clear, for all the families who have lost theirs in the fight that we have been waging in Mali for years, that we are not deviating from the line, that our fight remains the same and that it is everything as legitimate as it was, ”said the French chief of staff, General François Lecointre, on Wednesday.

Assurances that do not prevent doubt from settling on the merits of the mission, which is struggling to contain the jihadist threat in the Sahel, despite successes on the ground. Especially since the idea of ​​negotiating with the jihadists seems to appeal to other actors. The African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smaïl Chergui, thus called for “exploring the dialogue with extremists” in the Sahel and “encouraging them to lay down their arms”, in an article published in the Swiss newspaper Time. And the official draws a parallel with the agreement concluded between the Americans and the Afghan Taliban in February: it “can inspire our member states to explore dialogue with extremists and encourage them to lay down their arms”.

Read also “A huge relief”: reactions to the release of Sophie Pétronin

In France, doubt begins to perspire. “We have lost 50 soldiers since the start of these operations and nearly 500 soldiers have been wounded,” recalled Tuesday the chairman of the French Senate Defense Commission, Christian Cambon. However, a certain number of detainees released in Mali “have blood on their hands. […] Can we still consider that the junta in power in Mali is a trusted partner in the fight against terrorism that our soldiers lead with courage and abnegation? “He wondered, confiding his” deep concern about Barkhane’s situation in these conditions “. For the time being, officially, this questioning is not reaching the top of the state. But President Emmanuel Macron announced in July that he intended to make new arbitrations “at the end of the year” on the French commitment in the Sahel.

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