Counterrorism measures by the French government, the United Nations, and the African Union have continued in Mali. Despite the best efforts of the aforementioned actors, the outbreak of terrorism has continued. This begs the question, who is most fit to address the terrorism outbreak which is costing the lives of thousands of civilians in West Africa.
As Mali, then French Sudan, was a former colony of France, France has assumed a relatively involved role in counterrorism measures. In 2017, Macron re-avowed himself, stating in a speech, “France is determined to stay by your side completely, and without fail”. Since 2014, France has had 4000 troops deployed in Mali dedicated to combating the surge of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM). The large involvement of France in Mali is a direct response to the emerging Islamist militant groups who took control of Northern Mali in 2012. Although the creation of the military campaign named Operation Several ousted the militants and appeared to stifle the emerging terrorists groups in Mali, a number of groups continue to have strongholds over a variety of regions.
More recently, Macron stated in a speech that 33 Islamist extremists were “neutralized” in recent efforts by the French operation in Mali. The “neutralization” was reportedly carried out overnight with the combined use of attack helicopters, drones, and troops around the border of Mauritania, just 150 km (90 miles) northwest of the town of Mopti in Mali. This region is known as a hotbed of al-Qaeda affiliated militant groups. News of this was given during Macron’s visit to both Mali and Ivory Coast this past month. This comes just weeks after 13 French soldiers passed away in a helicopter crash, constituting one of the biggest losses of French troops since the beginning of France’s campaign in West African. Prior to the crash, the 13 soldiers were in the midst of tracking a militant group in Central Mali. The assassination of the 33 extremists marks a potential turning point in France’s seven year campaign. As France’s campaign appears to be undergoing significant change, so has expectations of national, regional, and international bodies. Questions have been circling regarding the role United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) should play in counterrorism efforts in the Sahel. In addition, both France and the Malian government have made significant requests for increased international support in counterrorism operations in West Africa. Furthermore, increased international attention must be brought towards the rising efforts of counterrorism in West Africa, and how national, regional, and international actors can work together to forge more peaceful pathways for countries just as Mali who have been embroiled in the violence of both terrorism and counterterrorism efforts.