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France - Sahel

Operation Barkhane increases French influence in the Sahel

Alain Jocard / AFP

The French government announced that a new military operation, spanning five countries in the Sahel region of North Africa, will start at the beginning of August. This mission named Operation Barkhane will have its main base in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, and will also be present in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

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Operation Barkhane, named after a crescent-shaped sand dune, will involve the deployment of 3000 military personnel across the vast Sahel region, backed by six fighter jets, 20 helicopters and three drones. The mission will form a belt of French military presence in five northern African countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger and Mauritania.

Operation Barkhane will bring Operation Serval, the French military intervention in the north of Mali since January 2013, to a close.

The French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that with Operation Barkhane France will counter the threat of terrorism in the region. "There still is a major risk that jihadists develop in the area that runs from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau," he said.

RFI spoke to Roland Marchal, a specialist on Francophone Africa, about this new military strategy. He says he is concerned about the money the French are going to spend on this.

Marchal says that the French army is correct in judging that terrorism networks are not based on national identities and must be combated regionally. However, the government erred in not including plans to boost democracy and foster accountability in these countries.

Operation Barkhane will have its headquarters and air force in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena, with a regional base in Gao, north Mali, a special forces base in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, and an intelligence base in Niger's capital, Niamey.

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