The French government is claiming credit for taking out over 50 terrorists in Mali with ties to Al-Qaeda. The attack occurred near the borders Mali shares with Niger and Burkina Faso. A drone detected a motorcycle caravan moving towards a military base. Although the caravan split up and tried to find cover, it was too late, as French forces sent in two fighter jets and a drone with missile launching capabilities. In addition to the loss of over 50 terrorists, over 30 motorcycles were destroyed, and four terrorists were captured alive. Additionally, various explosives and suicide vests were found, giving further credence to the idea that the terrorists were moving to attack a nearby base.
French defence minister Florence Parly has called the mission one of great importance and has stated that it dealt a significant blow to jihadist forces in the region. France has been focused for some time on curbing the influence of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group. It has been speculated that their focus on this group has allowed Al-Qaeda to build up its strength and numbers in the background. However, this military raid proves that France has not let up on them either.
This military attack comes at a time when France has announced its intentions to begin withdrawing some of its military presence by the end of the year. The hope is to pull back several hundred troops, though this is unfortunately not due to a perceived decrease in tensions. Rather, France hopes that other interested European countries will step in and assist. Countries such as Estonia have already assisted on military missions and the Czech Republic as well as Sweden are expected to send military contingents to the region in 2021. In response to the increasingly global commitment to bringing peace to the Sahel region, Parly stated, “France was alone for a long time, but it is no longer alone…I’m very optimistic that we’re now going to shift gears.”
While the ultimate goal is to bring peace to the region and enable African nations to maintain their own security once the biggest threats have been eliminated, there has been no detailed plan of how this will occur. The French forces have been in the region for seven years, and there is still no end in sight to the growing conflict. Perhaps it can be said that the state of affairs would be much worse if France was not present, but there is enough evidence to say that more must be done. The presence of additional countries in the region may serve as a deterrent to the terrorist forces as the influence, capability, and size of the military presence of these countries would far outweigh theirs. However, this is not guaranteed, and this solution still comes too close to the occurrence of violence rather than de-escalation.
At present it is unclear if African countries are coming together to discuss a joint plan to combat the growing spread of jihadist terrorism. Instead, it seems to be the case that each country is individually working with the French foreign ministry. A more united effort, and joint negotiations may be a step in the right direction to creating effective solutions. Lastly, it was announced in October that several key members of the extremist groups wanted to meet and negotiate with the government of Mali. While this was initially discounted as a good idea by the French, perhaps it is something that should be undertaken, provided there is first a prior discussion with the involved countries and that these negotiations take place in a visible and secured environment.
After several years of unrest and violence, it is time to rethink the nature of the solution for peace and security in the Sahel region. While greater involvement of foreign countries may be beneficial, and they arguably have an interest in the peace and stability of that region, this does not mean that ramping up the military presence is required. It may also be time to explore avenues of negotiation. What is clear is that this problem plagues many countries and the solution does not rest with one singular state. Rather, there must be increased cooperation and consideration if an effective solution is to present itself.
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