France will reconsider its military strategy in the Sahel region and very likely reduce military deployment as part of Operation Barkhane after significant military successes in 2020, the defense minister said.
“We will most likely have to adjust this device: a reinforcement by definition is temporary," Florence Parly told daily Le Parisien in an interview published on Monday, responding to a question of additional reinforcement of 600 soldiers which brought the strength of Barkhane forces to 5,100 troops last year.
A decision on this will be taken at the next joint summit of France and the G5 Sahel countries in February in N'djamena, the capital of Chad, by President Emmanuel Macron and the head of the armies, she said.
Parly added that the Barkhane forces achieved major military success last year after it neutralized several senior members of al-Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS and affiliated terror groups in the Grand Sahara in an area bordering Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger by attacking and disrupting their supply chains.
But in the wake of two recent attacks which left five French soldiers dead, she conceded the security conditions remain difficult due to the “pernicious methods of guerrilla warfare” adopted by terrorist groups.
“At this very moment, we are working on the evolutions of the Barkhane force in the coming months.”
She ruled out any negotiations with terror groups “which murder indiscriminately and have blood on their hands", but added willingness to talk to those who have “laid down their arms and who are not motivated by a radical and criminal ideology”, under the 2015 framework of Algiers agreement for peace and reconciliation which is yet to be implemented.
Parly also brushed aside criticisms from the opposition on the usefulness of operation Barkhane launched nine years ago and France lacking support in the fight against terrorism.
In the coming months, she said, the Takuba force, a special joint force of European and American troops, will be fully operational in the region to fight alongside the Malian armed forces, in particular in Menaka, an active sector for Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, where the recent attacks took place.
Since the launch of Operation Barkhane in 2013, 49 French soldiers have died.
Last week, five French soldiers were killed and others injured in two separate incidents after their armored vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Mali, according to the French minister of armed forces.
More than 5,000 French soldiers are deployed under Operation Barkhane which is led by France alongside the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad) to fight against terrorist groups in the region, particularly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Daesh/ISIS in the Greater Sahara.