ModernGhanalogo

FEATURED: The Bushy Roads In The City Of Accra: Who Is Sleeping On The Job?...

body-container-line-1
26.11.2019 Africa

France reels from new blow in tough Africa mission

By Michel MOUTOT, Valérie LEROUX
The Mali deaths were the heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades.  By JEFF PACHOUD (AFP)
NOV 26, 2019 AFRICA
The Mali deaths were the heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades. By JEFF PACHOUD (AFP)

The death of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter collision in Mali has dealt a new blow to France's battle against jihadists in West Africa as attacks intensify and calls grow for other EU members to share more of the burden.

The accident brings to 41 the number of French troops killed in the Sahel region since Paris intervened against al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists in Mali in 2013.

While the initial operation to free northern Malian towns from extremists took only a few months, the threat has since metastasised, spreading to southern Mali as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Despite the support of France's 4,500-strong counter-terrorism force Barkhane, an EU military training force and an UN peacekeeping mission, regional armies have appeared outgunned by the jihadists.

Paying tribute to the "thirteen heros" killed when two French helicopters collided on Monday, Defence Minister Florence Parly said this was "not the time for questioning the merit or not" of France's military intervention in the Sahel.

With insurgent attacks mounting, hostility towards France is growing in the region, including in Mali where the French were acclaimed as liberators in 2013.  By Daphné BENOIT (AFP) With insurgent attacks mounting, hostility towards France is growing in the region, including in Mali where the French were acclaimed as liberators in 2013. By Daphné BENOIT (AFP)

But with insurgent attacks mounting, hostility towards France is growing in the region, including in Mali where the French were acclaimed as liberators in 2013.

"Since the beginning of the French military involvement in the region, everything got worse. There is no progress. The situation has deteriorated," Jeremy Keenan, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London told AFP.

"Maybe this incident (the helicopter crash) will make French people take notice and say 'it's not working, it's more and more like Afghanistan'," he said.

French parties united

The hard-left France Unbowed party on Tuesday waded in to the fray, with its MPs saying it was time for "a serious and rational discussion to find a way out of a war, the meaning of which is lost on a large number of our fellow citizens as well as Malians themselves."

But no other parties followed suit, with the leaders of the Communist Party, the Socialists, the main opposition Republicans and the far-right National Rally all instead lauding the courage of soldiers enlisted in the fight against terrorism.

Francois Heisbourg, a special adviser at France's Foundation for Strategic Research, told AFP he did not expect the crash to lead to a profound rethink of France's military involvement in west Africa.

The accident involved one of the French military's Tiger attack helicopters.  By Daphné BENOIT (AFP) The accident involved one of the French military's Tiger attack helicopters. By Daphné BENOIT (AFP)

But Heisbourg said he did expect a debate on why France was being left by other EU members to do most of the heavy lifting.

Speaking on RTL radio, former airforce general Jean-Paul Palomeros said Tuesday that the latest French casualties showed the limitations of a "purely national" intervention.

"Our European friends, if they want to ensure their long-term safety against terrorism, must help us and step up now," he added, warning that failure to do so would result in the creation of "an Islamic State in Africa".

Terrorism not only problem

Parly denied that France, which has repeatedly called on its European partners to commit more troops and funds to the fight against terrorism in West Africa, had been abandoned by its allies.

"France is not alone in the Sahel and is increasingly less so," she said.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Monday's accident had not changed France's position on the jihadist threat in West Africa.

"We are fighting terrorism with top-notch soldiers who often risk their lives," he said.

But in the past few months, Paris has been pressing other EU members to play a greater role by sending special forces to shore up the beleaguered Sahel armies.

The response has been slow, however, with Estonia the only country to publicly step up so far, with a pledge of 50 soldiers.

French officials admit privately that a military response alone would not solve the problem of radicalisation in the Sahel and that political solutions are needed.

"The problem is not only counter-terrorism, the problem is much more deep-seated," Keenan said.

"The root causes of the conflict are bad governance and corruption, it's not al-Qaeda."

body-container-line